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State of the Union
With Fmr. Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD); Interview With Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT); Interview With Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Aired 9-10a ET
Aired January 14, 2024 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): First votes. A key poll shows Donald Trump far ahead in Iowa with just hours before the kickoff to the 2024 primary race.
One candidate jumped in with sky-high expectations. Now he's fighting for his political life.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now is our time.
TAPPER: Will his Iowa focus pay off? Republican presidential candidate Governor Ron DeSantis joins me next.
And tundra on the trail. Caucus-goers and candidates brave subzero temperatures in the coldest Iowa contest ever.
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (R) AND CURRENT U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I worry about that.
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Wear layers.
DESANTIS: They can throw a blizzard at us, and we are going to fight.
TAPPER: Who will have the edge in turnout Monday night? David Axelrod and Larry Hogan weigh in. And our panel of experts is here to discuss.
Plus: rough waters. A dramatic escalation in the Middle East, and now a key senator said to press President Biden over the U.S. role there. Is Biden's stance widening the rift on the left?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The United States was deeply complicit.
TAPPER: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joins me exclusively.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is frozen.
Tomorrow is one of the single most consequential days in this year's political calendar, the Iowa caucuses, where Donald Trump is hoping voters will help him sew up the primary contest almost before it begins.
Late last night, the highly regarded "Des Moines Register" poll suggested Mr. Trump is well on his way toward achieving that goal. Nearly half of Iowa caucus-goers said they would back the former president, with Trump leading every demographic group. And he far outpaces his nearest competitor, former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, by almost 30 points.
Haley's campaign welcomed the results last night as a sign of her momentum, as she edged out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who fell to third place. The rivals spent Saturday campaigning in Iowa, while Trump flew in late last night.
But it is far from clear that the gamble Haley and DeSantis took by challenging him for the nomination will ultimately pay off. The wild card Monday night, of course, is the dangerous cold front bearing down on Iowa, with the temperature expected near 20 degrees below zero.
The candidates urged their supporters to brave the cold to go caucus tomorrow. But we're going to have to wait and see how much the bone- chilling weather and dangerous roads ends up affecting the turnout and the results.
Joining me now from Iowa is my STATE OF THE UNION co-host and friend Dana Bash to help us mark the 15th anniversary of STATE OF THE UNION this week.
Dana, thanks so much for getting up early and joining.
I'm glad you're not outside.
TAPPER: Set the stakes for us in light of the new poll.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST: As you said, the key thing to keep in mind is that Donald Trump is far and away the front-runner.
His support is as wide, Jake, as it is deep. And I remember being here in 2016. He was ahead at this point in the polls. He didn't win. He lost to Ted Cruz. And a big reason is because it was organic. He had no organization the ground. It is very different this time, Jake.
His campaign has been doing it in a very specific way. They have precinct captains in nearly 1,700 of the caucus sites. And that is certainly there. The thing that even the candidate, I am told, is asking over and over of his aides is, what about the weather?
He's very concerned about it. Obviously, all of the candidates, everybody here is, because I came in here and it was, with the windchill, minus-40 degrees. That's no joke, even for Iowans. So they are all -- all of these campaigns are working on making sure that their supporters aren't complacent.
Complacency with Trump is a big issue. They're concerned that the voters might not go because they think he's going to win, but also it is getting people to the caucus sites even in this frigid cold.
TAPPER: And this new poll has Haley moving up to second place, DeSantis in third. What are you seeing on the ground there?
BASH: With Nikki Haley, certainly, that sort of top-line number is a big deal for her.
But if you look deeper inside the poll, Jake, the enthusiasm that she has isn't as strong. And that is a concern generally speaking, but even and especially with weather like this.
And I will just tell you, anecdotally, we were at a DeSantis event yesterday and, we met several voters who came and said that they were Nikki Haley supporters, but they still wanted to come and hear Ron DeSantis just to be sure.
Nikki Haley has spent -- her super PAC has spent more than $30 million here in Iowa, much more than anybody else, so she's really investing here, but nothing, Jake, like Ron DeSantis. He's all in here.
He says that he's -- it's not make or break here, but if you just look at where the campaign is, his campaign and, more importantly, his super PAC, which has really been kind of running the show here in Iowa, they have been talking about the vaunted organization that they have, knocking -- I talked to one of his aides yesterday. He's saying that they have not knocked on more than 900,000 doors.
They do have the same precinct captains that Donald Trump has. I met a few of them yesterday. They have pretty much pulled up stakes in New Hampshire, and their -- all of their eggs are in the Iowa basket.
So, yes, he is not as high in sort of the overall horse race number in that very important "Des Moines Register" poll that came out last night, but his support is more sticky, and the organization that the super PAC Never Back Down has built is much, much stronger much more intense then than Nikki Haley is, by all accounts here on the ground in Iowa.
TAPPER: All right, Dana, stay warm, and thanks so much.
TAPPER: And joining me now is Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Governor DeSantis, thanks so much for joining us.
So, the final "Des Moines Register" poll, considered the gold standard for Iowa polling, shows you in third place, trailing Nikki Haley, more than 30 points behind Donald Trump. Your campaign has obviously focused so much attention and millions of dollars into Iowa. You have done -- you visited 99 counties. You spent most of your time as a candidate there.
Last month, you said you were going to win in Iowa. What happens if you finish third? Is that the end of your campaign?
DESANTIS: Well, happy 15th anniversary.
TAPPER: Thank you.
DESANTIS: Thanks for having me on.
We're going to do well on Monday. Our voters are very motivated. This is -- I think it's very hard to poll an Iowa caucus, period, which the '16 poll was not accurate and predictive, but especially one in negative-20 degrees.
And so these are folks who are very motivated. Our voters are very motivated. We have spent a lot of time in Iowa, because we have gone door to door getting people to commit to caucus to us. We have got a huge number of people that have committed to caucus. And we expect that these are the people that turn out.
So, there's a lot of excitement on the ground. We're in this for the long haul. We understand that you have got to win a majority of the delegates. We understand that there's a long process here, but we're going to do well because we have done it right. And our folks are going to turn out.
And I think that anyone that tells you that they can model exactly who's going to turn out in the broader electorate, you just -- it's an unknowable. But I think, with our folks, they're committed, they're going to be there, and we're going to have a good night.
TAPPER: So, no matter what happens, no matter your result tomorrow night, you're in the race, you're on to New Hampshire, you're on to South Carolina, on to Nevada?
DESANTIS: In fact, we have -- on Tue -- the day after, we're going to do a town hall on CNN in New Hampshire. I will also do some events in South Carolina, and we will get to Nevada at some point.
I'm participating in the caucus against Donald Trump. Nikki Haley is not, and so she can't win any delegates in Nevada. My view would be, if you're in it to win it, you got to compete for every single delegate. And so, especially when you have the proportional, you got to be out there.
So, yes, we're going to be out there winning delegates in Nevada as well.
TAPPER: The poll shows Donald Trump winning by the largest margin of any nonincumbent Republican presidential ever, and leading with every demographic group, even the ones he's weakest with.
Did you underestimate how strong his grip remains with the Republican Party?
DESANTIS: Well, look, they have set very high expectations for his performance on Monday, and I know the media has been saying that he was unstoppable and all this for many, many months now. And, ultimately, people are going to be able to make a decision. I can
tell you, from our door-to-door and the stuff that we're doing, there's a lot of voters who haven't made a final decision. There's a lot of voters who are deciding between me and Donald Trump. I think some of these voters appreciate what he did, but they do understand that there's some drawbacks here about nominating him in 2024.
So, I actually think you're going to see a lot of folks that are going to go to the caucus without 100 percent minds made up, and that's part of the reason we have organized all these precincts as well. I have people speaking on my behalf, delivering the message, and hopefully being able to bring some of those votes home.
So, I think Monday will be instructive. I'm looking forward to it. I know he had to race back after canceling, got in late last night, and I think that they're doing that because I think that they do see that he may not meet those expectations. But they're high expectations, for sure.
TAPPER: Tomorrow is likely to be the coldest Iowa caucuses on record, with windchill expected to be as low as minus-40 degrees. Back-to-back storms this week dumped nearly two feet of snow on the state.
You're encouraging your supporters to -- quote -- "brave the elements," But, this morning, the National Weather Service said travel of any kind is very hazardous.
DESANTIS: Well, Iowa is doing a great job of clearing the roads. We have been doing events. We did events all day yesterday. We were traveling around.
Obviously, we want people to be safe, but we will be there to help people if they need. We have already arranged rides for a lot of folks. This is just something that's important. People want to be a part of this process.
And what I have said is, you're probably never going to have an opportunity to have your vote count more and pack more of a punch than in this Iowa caucus. Last time, in 2016, I think there were 186,000 people that participated. A lot of people thought, even before the weather, there may be less this time.
Now, with the weather, it could be -- it could be significantly less. So we're telling our supporters, you go out you bring some friends and family, that is going to pack a big punch. Of course, be safe while you're doing it.
But we have had events. We have had a lot of people coming to these events. And I think people are motivated. They want to participate in this process. It's kind of been a long time coming. And now they can finally actually render the judgment, and it's not just going to be about what some of the pundits and whatnot think.
TAPPER: I want to ask about the situation in the Middle East. President Biden ordered strikes against dozens of Houthi targets in
Yemen this week in response to the Houthi attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea. Former President Trump criticized the strikes, saying -- quote -- "We're dropping bombs all over the Middle East again, and now we have wars in Ukraine, Israel and Yemen."
It sounds as though Trump is saying it's a to strike back against the Houthis. What do you think?
DESANTIS: Well, I remember when he was president, Jake, he did a lot of strikes against Yemen and against the Houthis. And so I don't know why he -- that's a pretty strong record in terms of, he did that very, very religiously.
Look, I think we have every right to ensure that the sea lanes remain open. I'm a Navy veteran. That's one of the core missions of the U.S. Navy. To have these malcontents be able to clog up international shipping, that has implications for our national security interests, our economic interests.
I don't know what Biden's larger strategy is in terms of how he's engaging there. I have been critical of how he's handled the protection of our troops in other parts of the Middle East, because I feel they have been able to take potshots at our troops without really strong enough response that are deterring.
But, clearly, we can't -- you can't let terrorist groups take over shipping through the Red Sea. That would have serious implications.
TAPPER: The Department of Homeland Security said that a woman and two children drowned Friday night trying to cross the Rio Grande River coming from Mexico into the United States.
The DHS says that Texas officials prevented Border Patrol agents from rendering aid. Are you OK with that?
DESANTIS: Well, I think the state should be able to enforce immigration law. I will empower the states to do that.
The federal government down there has frustrated Texas' attempt to try to get people not to come across the border. And I think they will say that was on the Mexico side, and maybe the facts will come out and that will be clear one way or another. Obviously, it's an unfortunate thing.
But I think what Texas is trying to do is set a standard so that people know that they're going to be turned away, rather than let in. Under the Biden administration, they let them in, they give them a paper and release them to the interior of the country. That's not a deterrent from being able to come.
If people know that they're not going to be able to get in, then that's a deterrent for people trying to come. Why would you want to pay a smuggler, a coyote $5,000 when you're just not going to be able to gain entry in the first place? So I'd like to see the federal government do more to help Texas to stop the influx. And I think that that would be better for everybody. And, honestly, it
would be safer for a lot of the people that are coming, because they're going through things in Mexico with the cartels that are not good. And some of these people are being treated very poorly.
TAPPER: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, stay warm in Iowa and have fun out there. Thanks for joining us.
DESANTIS: Thank you.
TAPPER: My next guest is no stranger to the Iowa caucuses. Senator Bernie Sanders, independent from Vermont, joins me next on his new standoff with the Biden White House.
And did he just take the first step towards launching a third-party challenge? I will ask Republican Larry Hogan coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Today marks 100 days since the brutal Hamas attacks on Israel. Here in the United States, divisions over the war that Israel launched that day are only growing.
Joining me now, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Senator, thanks again for joining.
We have a lot to get to, but, first, let's start with this dramatic new escalation in the Middle East. President Biden strikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Top House progressive Congresswoman Jayapal said the president should have gotten and, in fact, needed permission from Congress, calling the strikes an unacceptable violation of the Constitution.
Do you agree with her? Were these strikes illegal?
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Well, what I do think is, the president has a right to respond on an emergency basis to the disruption of international shipping brought about by the Houthis.
On the other hand, he's got to get to Congress immediately. It is Congress that has a right to declare war, not the president of the United States. So I hope this issue gets to Congress immediately.
TAPPER: Let's talk about the war that Israel is waging in Gaza. You are trying to force a vote in Congress that would direct the U.S. State Department to look into whether Israel is using U.S. equipment or assistance to violate human rights standards in Gaza.
[09:20:05] The spokesman for the National Security Council, John Kirby, responded to your plan, saying -- quote -- "We do not believe that this resolution is the right vehicle to address these issues. And we don't think now is the right time. The Israelis have indicated they are preparing to transition their operations to a much lower intensity. And we believe that transition will be helpful both in terms of reducing civilian casualties, as well as increasing humanitarian assistance" -- unquote.
What do you say to that?
SANDERS: I strongly disagree.
Jake, we have got to, as Americans, take a very deep breath. What is going on in Gaza right now is a horrendous humanitarian catastrophe. We're looking at 23,000 people who have been killed. Almost 60,000 have been wounded. And two-thirds of the people who have been killed are women and children.
You're looking at 70 percent of the housing units in Gaza that have been destroyed. Jake, if I use the word Dresden, Germany, to you, you think about the horrific destruction during World War II of that city. What is going on in Gaza now in three months is worse than what took place in Dresden over a two-year period.
This is a catastrophe. And now, according to the United Nations, after you have 1.9 million people displaced from their homes -- they don't have food, they don't have water, they don't have medical equipment, they don't have fuel -- what you are looking at is imminent starvation. Children are starving to death.
So, my view has been from the beginning, Israel has a right to respond to this horrific terrorist attack from Hamas, but you do not have a right to go to war against an entire people, women and children. And the United States Congress has got to act, because a lot of this destruction is being done with military weapons supplied by the United States of America.
And what the resolution that I'm introducing is about, it's consistent with the Foreign Assistance Act. It says that, if American military assistance is given to any country, Saudi Arabia, Israel, any other country, it has got to be used consistent with human rights, international human rights standards, and American law.
In my opinion, that is certainly not the case. We have a horrific humanitarian catastrophe. We cannot turn our backs on it. Congress has got to start moving to protect children in Palestine.
TAPPER: Do you think that you can get 51 votes?
SANDERS: Not on Tuesday night, I don't. I think we're making progress.
I think what we're -- look, what we're trying to do is unprecedented. This is the first time this particular resolution has ever been brought to the floor for a vote. This is the first time we have ever seen members of the Congress beginning to stand up to very -- to Israeli aid.
So it's going to be a long, hard process, but we have got to begin somewhere. This is the beginning.
TAPPER: So you have been critical about what you call Netanyahu's "illegal, immoral, brutal, and grossly disproportionate war" -- unquote.
TAPPER: A hundred days ago, of course, on October 7, Hamas sent hundreds of fighters into Israel. They took hostages. They killed children. They killed families, grandparents.
SANDERS: Yes, absolutely.
TAPPER: What should have been done? How do you go after, how can the Israelis go after Hamas if they are hiding among the Palestinian civilians?
SANDERS: Well, Jake, that is a very fair question. And, as I have said a million times, what -- Hamas is a disgusting terrorist organization. What they did is unspeakable. And they still are holding over 100 hostages.
The situation is difficult. It's a highly dense, densely populated urban area. Fighting there is very difficult, no question about it. This is not an easy task to go after Hamas.
But you don't starve hundreds of thousands of children in the process. Israel is a very sophisticated military, one of the most sophisticated in the world. It is not easy, but you don't destroy an entire people in the process. I think most people would say that is morally unacceptable.
TAPPER: So, what do you think they should be doing right now, the Israelis?
SANDERS: Well, I think, for a start, there has got to be an immediate humanitarian pause. Food, water is not getting into Gaza. And children are going hungry and people are facing starvation.
So, the first thing that's got to happen is, there has to be a massive increase in humanitarian aid to fend off the famine. And, second of all, Israel has got to be -- has got to target its attacks. You cannot continue this vast war of indiscriminate bombing and now starvation against the women and children and innocent people of Gaza.
TAPPER: President Biden has caught a lot of criticism from the left on his support for Israel amid this war.
You're a leader on the progressive left, the movement that you helped create in your presidential campaigns. Do you think that young progressives in the United States will ultimately rally behind Joe Biden in November, or has he seriously damaged his standing?
SANDERS: Look, I think we will see what happens in November, because the choice is pretty clear. Running against Donald Trump, I suspect, who will be the Republican candidate -- he's one of the most dangerous political figures in modern American history. So I think people will end up rallying around Biden.
But there is no question it is very hard for young people, I think for most Americans, to be excited about what is going on right now. The president has got to change course. He has been very clear. He has expressed his concern about -- quote, unquote -- "indiscriminate bombing."
He has asked Netanyahu over and over again to change course. Netanyahu just yesterday said, no, we're going to continue doing what we are doing.
Unacceptable. You cannot give billions of dollars to a country that ignores your wishes, violates international law. So, I would hope that the president follows through on his concerns and says to Netanyahu, this is unacceptable. You're not getting a nickel more from the United States unless you radically change course. We're not going to see hundreds and hundreds of thousands of children starved to death.
TAPPER: Senator Bernie Sanders, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you so much.
SANDERS: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: It's go time.
What David Axelrod and Larry Hogan are expecting in tomorrow night's caucuses, that's coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
The Republican presidential race starts officially tomorrow, but how much longer will it continue after that?
Joining us now, David Axelrod and former Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan.
Governor Hogan, let me start with you.
Donald Trump is, according to the new "Des Moines Register" poll that just popped last night, leading by 28 points. You have been hopeful that some other Republican will win the nomination. Who do you want to win tomorrow and what does that person's path to the nomination look like?
FMR. GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): Well, I think it's pretty clear that Donald Trump is going to win Iowa tomorrow, and there's not much hope of anybody overtaking him.
I think that's not a big surprise. I don't think it matters that much, because, for the past 24 years, the winner of the Republican Caucus in Iowa has not been the nominee. So it's really about the fight for second place. And Ron DeSantis has put all the marbles on Iowa and spent all of his time and money, and seems to be going in the wrong direction.
I think Nikki Haley's got all the momentum. And what this race is really all about is to try to nominate the strongest possible nominee for November. I'm convinced that the momentum is with Nikki Haley, that she has the potential of moving into second place, although it be at a distant second place, which gives her momentum heading into New Hampshire, where she's only seven points down.
And I think that that's a real possibility, if she could potentially come in second place in Iowa, move on to New Hampshire. It's possible she could win, which would put her in a much better position when she moves into her home state of South Carolina.
TAPPER: So is that an endorsement? Would you like her to get the nomination?
HOGAN: You know, I have been saying since last spring when I made the decision not to run that I really did not want to see a multicar pile- up that would just enable Donald Trump. I think we want to have the strongest possible nominee in November.
Polls show that that is Nikki Haley, that she's 17 points ahead of Joe Biden, and it's a toss-up with Trump and Biden and DeSantis is losing. So, yes, I think it's time for the party to get behind Nikki Haley. My friend Chris Christie dropped out of the race in New Hampshire. I appreciate his effort.
But I believe that Nikki Haley is the strongest chance for us to put forth our best possible candidate for November.
TAPPER: David Axelrod, first, I want to note that this is the 15th anniversary of STATE OF THE UNION, and you were a guest on the very first episode of STATE OF THE UNION 15 years ago this week back in 2009. We're showing a clip there of you and John King.
And John's hair has gotten a little whiter, and your mustache has vanished.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
TAPPER: So -- but, beyond that...
AXELROD: Yes, Jake, thanks for reminding me how much -- how much time has passed, but happy anniversary, Jake.
TAPPER: Thank you so much.
(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: What is your prediction for tomorrow night? Who might have the momentum coming out of Iowa? And will tomorrow night mark the end for any candidate?
AXELROD: Yes, well, look, I think Ron DeSantis, he said exactly what he should say in his interview with you. He has to say that he's going to move on.
I think, if he finishes third, after investing untold, tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars in Iowa, I think that he will be on his way back to Tallahassee, rather than New Hampshire.
But looking at this Iowa poll, if I were Nikki Haley, I would be concerned about it. The one number that was good for her was that she had edged into second place. Every other number would be a little concerning, especially in a caucus that is going to take place on a night when it's going to be 40-below windchills.
You look particularly at this measure of candidate enthusiasm, Donald Trump -- 49 percent of Donald Trump's supporters said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting for him, 23 percent of Ron DeSantis'. For Haley, that number was 9 percent. And you have to ask yourself, if you're not terribly enthusiastic, are you going to drag yourself out on a night like this?
Second point is that half her support comes from independents and Democrats who say they're going to vote in the Republican caucuses. Are they going to drag themselves out on a bitterly cold night to sit through two hours of discussion to cast a vote for Nikki Haley? It may happen. It could happen, but it looks worrisome to me, from her perspective.
And if she doesn't beat DeSantis in Iowa, he will go on. There will be more candidates in New Hampshire. He may take some votes from Trump there. Maybe that will help her. But the perception will be that she missed her mark.
Governor Hogan, the group No Labels inched closer to a potential third-party 2024 bid this week with the launch of a new super PAC. You just stepped down from the group's leadership. Did you do that because you are exploring a run for president on the No Labels ticket?
HOGAN: No, Jake, I -- it kind of created a whole lot of speculation. And then -- I didn't mean to do that.
I simply -- and my position No Labels has not changed. I'm focused on trying to nominate the strongest possible Republican we can, which is why I'm urging everyone to get behind Nikki Haley. I wish my friend Axe could come up with a better nominee for the Democrats, quite frankly, because 70 percent of the people in America do not want to vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump. But, no, I'm -- I -- they're going to, I think, continue to try to get
access to the ballot. They're going to wait and see if we're stuck with these two bad choices in -- on the November ballot. And I think they will make their decision in March or April, but my position has not changed.
AXELROD: Well, Larry and I have had this discussion right here several times. I continue to believe that the best friend of Donald Trump are third-party candidates in this race.
I think, if you look at polling, he tends to pick up marginally because of these third-party candidates. Certainly, that would be the case if No Labels field a candidate. And I think Larry was smart to step off of their board. And I would be sad, because I like him as a friend, to see him used in that way that would help Donald Trump in the election.
TAPPER: All right, Axe, Governor Hogan, good to see both...
HOGAN: Well, Axe, let me say this.
TAPPER: Go ahead.
HOGAN: We would not be discussing any of this if Biden and Trump were not so weak.
And so it's an interesting election. But I can tell you, I wouldn't want to be associated with anything that would be a spoiler for either Donald Trump or Joe Biden. And we will just have to wait and see. It's going to be a wild ride, I think, in 2024.
TAPPER: All right, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
One candidate has the edge in voter enthusiasm. We will dig into the new Iowa polling with my panel next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DESANTIS: If you're willing to fight for me on Monday night, then, as president, I will be fighting for you for the next eight years.
HALEY: This is go time. All eyes are on Iowa.
TRUMP: You have to get out, because we have to send a message most importantly for November.
Before we get to Biden, we have to knock off two people, and sort of three people. I don't think there's a lot of threat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A closely watched poll in Iowa setting expectations for the caucuses tomorrow.
My panel joins me.
And let's bring up this new "Des Moines Register" poll. It has Trump at 48 percent, Haley moving up into second place with 20 percent, DeSantis 16 percent, Ramaswamy still in the race, in case you forgot, 8 percent, the margin of error plus or minus 3.7 points.
David, does Trump have a point? Is there really any threat to him?
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, there are two ways to run a political race, scared and unopposed, right?
So, I think it's smart to run scared. You run hard and scared. But his lock looks pretty solid here. And if you look at the numbers in the crosstabs, it looks pretty solid. But there's still -- it's going to be bad weather. DeSantis does have Kim Reynolds. He has her operation.
TAPPER: The governor of Iowa.
URBAN: The governor of Iowa. He's got her ground game operation. The Trump folks have been out.
I think the big loser here tomorrow is going to be Nikki Haley. I think that her numbers look -- if you look at -- again, the crosstabs come from -- I think Axe alluded to it -- independents and Democrats, a little soft. Doesn't have probably as good a ground game, didn't spend the time on putting it together.
So I think DeSantis could outperform that poll and come in second and do very well and have a momentum going -- not that he's going to win New Hampshire, but move past New Hampshire to South Carolina.
TAPPER: The pollster at the table, I'd like you to weigh in.
TAPPER: I mean, Nikki Haley probably saw the poll, thought, awesome, I'm in second place.
And then you dive into the crosstabs, and, as David points out, the enthusiasm's not there compared to the other two major candidates, and a lot of the support is not coming from Republicans.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's right.
And I think that's going to create a big problem, because it's not just Iowa that you have to win over Republicans to win the Republican primary, but a lot of these other states. New Hampshire may well be the kind of aberration this pathway to the nomination.
TAPPER: Right. A lot of independents vote in New Hampshire.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: That's right.
And so, for somebody like Nikki Haley, I mean, she needs this boost of momentum in Iowa to prove that she's not just a one-state candidate who only wins in places with lots of independents and moderates. And so it is concerning the numbers underneath the surface.
With that said, it doesn't seem likely to me that Ron DeSantis is going to win the Iowa caucuses. So I also don't really know what his path forward looks like, beyond turning his attention toward 2028.
TAPPER: At the beginning of December, Governor DeSantis said he was going to win Iowa.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
No, Governor DeSantis lied. So...
TAPPER: Well, it's not a lie. It was an inaccurate prediction probably.
SELLERS: Well, OK. He lacked self-awareness at that particular moment.
I don't want to write off Nikki Haley just yet. I think, if Nikki Haley performs well...
TAPPER: We should know that you're a former South Carolina state representative. You know her.
SELLERS: I know her very well. And I just know that she is actually one of the more skillful politicians we have in the country. Whether or not you believe what she stands for or not, she's really good in front of an audience, really good with retail politics and decent at messaging.
And so she's somebody that Donald Trump does not want to be one-on-one with, particularly if she's able to gain some momentum out of Iowa. If she comes or creeps in second place, wins by a point or two, whatever that may be, or beats -- not wins, but beats DeSantis by a point or two, goes into New Hampshire, performs well, then you have South Carolina, where you have a decently one-on-one race with her and Donald Trump.
That is not in the best interest of Donald Trump. I dare not say Donald Trump will lose, but he will definitely come out wounded. I also think -- I know we -- I know we kind of laugh and jest about it, but I think Ramaswamy has a chance to creep up near third or touch the third-place candidate and be really close.
I think that, although most of his voters are younger, they may not come out in the blizzard or weather, he's actually done a decent job with earn media in Iowa, so we will see how that plays out.
TAPPER: As I recall, four years ago, then-Vice President Joe Biden, did he come in fifth in Iowa? He did -- it was not a strong...
KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Fourth. Fourth. Fourth.
TAPPER: Fourth. Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.
SELLERS: Somebody remembers.
BEDINGFIELD: Show some respect, please, Jake.
TAPPER: I remember being in a caucus room, and we were doing, like, live interviews with different groups.
I don't know if people are familiar with how caucuses work, but you have a group of, I guess it was Kamala Harris supporters, a group of Bernie Sanders supporters, Buttigieg supporters, and there were these sweet little hopeful Biden supporters that -- I said, hope brings eternal.
TAPPER: And they were right, and I was wrong.
BEDINGFIELD: Yes, their hope was in the right place.
Look, the reason that worked, though, for Joe Biden is, there was an electoral path for him. There was a more diverse electorate in Nevada and South Carolina. That was -- from a campaign perspective, that was always our strategy, that we knew we were not going to do as well in these first two states that are less diverse, and so we needed to get to Nevada and South Carolina.
So, the challenge, the difference here for this field is, there really isn't a path for, like, a Ron DeSantis, or I would argue even a Nikki Haley, although, obviously, Bakari knows her well from having served with her. Maybe I'm wrong. But it feels...
SELLERS: I didn't say there was a path. I just think she's formidable.
BEDINGFIELD: She's formidable.
BEDINGFIELD: Oh, no question she's formidable.
But a weak showing in Iowa, there isn't a long-term strategic path for these guys. I mean, Donald Trump has essentially gone wire to wire here with all of the key coalitions within the Republican Party that you need to become the Republican nominee.
So, a fourth-place finish, a third-place finish in Iowa for these guys, when they don't really have a path in these other states, won't have the same impact.
And let's look at how stagnant this race has actually been over time. Let's put up the "Des Moines Register" poll from -- there's October, December, January. I mean, like, Donald Trump has been far and above the leader in Iowa going back to October. Haley and DeSantis have been swapping second and third place, Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson swimming in the shallow end.
I mean, it hasn't really changed.
URBAN: No, listen -- and, again, what's being overlooked here a little bit, I think, too is the Trump operation, right?
URBAN: The Trump operation is incredibly professional, incredibly disciplined.
You may not like the former president, you may like what he stands for, but you got to respect the game, right? And so Susie Wiles, Chris LaCivita, Jason Miller, John Brabender, Brian Jack, the team that's running this campaign is doing an incredible job.
And they're keeping him right where he's -- right where he's supposed to be. The last -- you saw that FOX -- may not have seen it, but the FOX News town hall he did, he was on message. He was kind of -- he laughed off all the bad things, the dictator thing. He was kind of back -- back kind of on the -- in the mainstream.
So they're doing a great job. They're doing a great job in Iowa right now on the ground getting people out, dragging -- knocking and dragging people tonight or tomorrow night. So I think you will continue to see that operation moving forward.
TAPPER: One other thing that's interesting is, he's in the Iowa -- in the "Des Moines Register" poll, he's performing well even with groups that are his weakest groups, like college-educated women.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: That's right.
I mean, the Republican base wants what the Republican base wants. And it appears that they want Donald Trump. I mean, he is well-liked even by voters in the party who are saying, maybe I will choose Ron DeSantis, maybe I will look somewhere else.
Republicans like Donald Trump. They like him when he is old Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, talking about the policies that those voters like. And they even kind of sometimes like him when he's new Donald Trump, vengeful, et cetera. His campaign will try, I think, smartly to keep him away from doing too much of that, but he is still Donald Trump. He is who he says he is.
TAPPER: And this is going to set up a tough rematch for President Biden. BEDINGFIELD: No question.
But I think the point that David and Kristen are raising is an extremely significant one as we move into the general if he's going to be the nominee. How long can you really keep Donald Trump in this more reserved place?
I mean, everything we know about him, everything we have seen, he's not somebody who likes to be scripted. He's not somebody who, when he feels he's under attack or he's under pressure, doesn't react in a really bombastic way.
And so I think if they're banking on keeping a disciplined Donald Trump in order to win the general election, that doesn't seem like a smart bet.
TAPPER: It does help when people at FOX just provide him these safe spaces to do these town halls where he doesn't really get any significant pushback, as opposed to the tough questions we were throwing at Haley and DeSantis at that same time.
SELLERS: Yes, some things remain the same no matter the year, in that he can go to he can go to FOX News and kind of find a safe place or a home there.
But he's still going to have to go out and compete with Joe Biden. The thing that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing is, they're actually campaigning now. Kamala Harris was in Atlanta, Georgia. She's been in South Carolina already. She's in South Carolina tomorrow. The president's been there. So they are trying to gin up their base.
TAPPER: All right, thanks one and all.
Tomorrow, join CNN for special coverage of the Iowa caucuses with all the best reporting and analysis. It starts at 4:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow only here on CNN.
A Donald Trump moment you might have missed this week that could theoretically have profound implications for the next four years and beyond -- that's next.
TAPPER: With the flurry of news this week, you can be forgiven if you missed one pretty important moment a few days ago in a D.C. courthouse, where Donald Trump and his legal team argued he has legal immunity for his actions regarding the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, part of special counsel Jack Smith's prosecution of Trump for conspiracy to obstruct that official proceeding, for example, with lies that incited violent and angry crowds...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. RIOTERS: Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And prosecution for conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy against rights, as in the right to vote, regarding his pressure campaign, for example, on elected officials to violate their oaths of office and deliver states that Biden won to him.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: Plus, of course, a mendacious campaign. And it led to a dark, deadly day on the Capitol, with four Trump supporters dead, one police officer, Brian Sicknick, dead, and, in the aftermath, because of the horrific trauma of that day, several law enforcement officials later dying by suicide.
In court, Trump and his lawyers are claiming that he cannot be charged because of presidential immunity. But at least one of the judges, Florence Pan, tried to put their argument to something of a stress test.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JUDGE FLORENCE PAN, D.C. CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS: Could a president who ordered Seal Team Six to assassinate a political rival who was not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?
D. JOHN SAUER, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: If he were impeached and convicted first.
PAN: So your answer is no?
SAUER: My answer is qualified yes. There's a political process that would have to occur.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: The answer was, no, that person would not be prosecutable.
To translate that from the legalese, Trump's lawyers are arguing Trump as president could order an assassination of a political rival using SEAL Team Six without prosecution, unless he is first impeached by the House and then convicted by the Senate.
And that prompts this question. If a President Trump were to order the assassination of a political rival using SEAL Team Six, would a majority of the House of Representatives vote to impeach him? Would there be 67 U.S. senators willing to vote to convict him? Let's restate this. According to Trump and his team, he could use the
U.S. military to assassinate a political rival, and he could escape prosecution if 34 senators, Republicans, were willing to acquit him for such an action.
That prompted this from Democratic Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ (D-HI): Do you think 34 United States senators stand ready to vote to acquit? I don't know, honestly. I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Eight years ago, less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses of 2016, Donald Trump famously praised the loyalty of his supporters by saying this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: It is not difficult to imagine Trump getting votes from his ride-or-die congressional supporters, the ones who helped pave the path for what happened on January 6 by mounting challenges based on these election lies.
But what about the others, not ride-or-die, the mainstream Republicans? How would they vote? Do you remember what former Congresswoman Liz Cheney told me about why only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump in the House for his role in the insurrection?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): There were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security, afraid, in some instances, for their lives.
And that tells you something about where we are as a country...
TAPPER: That's terrible.
CHENEY: ... if members of Congress aren't able to cast votes or feel that they can't because of their own security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: In a recent book, Senator Romney shared similar anecdotes.
Quote: "One Republican congressman confided to Romney that he wanted to vote for Trump's second impeachment, but chose not to out of fear for his family's safety. Why put his wife and children at risk if it wouldn't change the outcome?" A member of Republican Senate leadership was talked out of voting to convict Trump in the Senate -- quote -- "'You can't do that,' Romney recalled someone saying. 'Think of your personal safety,' said another. 'Think of your children.' The senator eventually decided they were right" -- unquote.
Now, how do you think those fears might impact votes after this hypothetical assassination of a political rival?
We're in a dangerous place right now as a country. A major swathe of the United States has been lied to repeatedly by Republican leaders and MAGA media, such as FOX, people who know better, but who have bet on power over principle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, for all the people who have put their own personal ambition ahead of what's right, they will ultimately have to answer the same questions that I had to answer after my decision in 2016.
Those questions don't ever leave. In fact, they're really stubborn. They stay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie looked out at Capitol Hill on January 7, 2021, and he hated what he saw and he hated the role he felt he had played in it.
And he feared that what might come next would be worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIE: I remember what Benjamin Franklin said when he was walking down the street in Philadelphia after the Constitutional Convention and a woman approached him on the street and said: "Mr. Franklin, what kind of government did you give us?"
And he said to the woman: "A republic, if you can keep it."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Can we?
Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.
"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts now.