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Gillum Becomes First Black Nominee for Florida Governor; Trump Warns Evangelicals of 'Violence' if GOP Loses Midterms. Aired 6-6:29a ET
Aired August 29, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDREW GILLUM (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I humbly accept the Democratic nomination.
[05:59:41] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's making history. He spoke to every single person. That's why he's gaining momentum.
RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I did have support from someone in Washington. He lives in the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have 70 days to win this seat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Arizona the two fringe candidates seem to be soundly defeated.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's saying that the Democrats are going to put Antifa to use violence against Trump supporters.
REP. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It's designed to suppress turnout, to create fear. It is totally reprehensible.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, August 29, 6 a.m. here in New York. And it is a big morning --
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, election.
CAMEROTA: Bigger than expected.
BERMAN: Big surprising morning.
CAMEROTA: That's right. We begin with breaking news for you. There's a upset in the Florida Democratic primary for governor. It's a major victory for the left wing of the party, and it sets up a race between a Bernie Sanders progressive and a vocal President Trump supporter in November.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who was outspent by millions in the primary, pulled off of this stunning upset over more establishment candidates. He becomes the state's first black gubernatorial nominee, defeating four other competitive candidates in this very tight race. Gillum will face off against Congressman Ron DeSantis in November whose campaign surged after getting the endorsement of President Trump.
BERMAN: One other big result overnight, in Arizona, the Republican race to replace Jeff Flake. Representative Martha McSally fended off a challenge from two hardline conservatives. McSally will now face off against Democratic representative Kyrsten Sinema in a race that could help decide which party takes control of the Senate.
But the earthquake overnight was in Florida. Big, surprising results. So let's start first in Miami and bring in Florida political reporter for Politico, Mark Caputo.
Mark, thanks so much for being with us. Longtime listener, first time caller. Always a pleasure to read your column, so I'm fascinated what you have to say about this race. We've been calling it an earthquake, a shocker, yet you, sir, four years ago, in 2014, on Twitter noted that this man, Andrew Gillum, was worth watching. You wrote, "Five white Dems in a row have lost. If I'm Andrew Gillum, I'd seriously be thinking about a bid for governor."
What did you see that made you think that last night could happen?
MARK CAPUTO, FLORIDA POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO" (via phone): Well, what you just saw was the Florida Democrats, as they kept trying to do the same thing other and over again, achieving the same result earlier.
And one of the things that President Obama was very effective at is capturing not just the minds but the hearts of Democrats. And no one had done that at the state level in Florida, when they ran for governor.
And there's something about Andrew Gillum. He's incredibly charismatic. Everyone who hears him, who is not a conservative, certainly likes what he has to say.
And you see this on the campaign trail as he decided not only to run for mayor, when he ran for mayor. But when you saw him run for governor, is that when he would speak to crowds, they would start to swoon. And all of the other candidates on stage usually just kind of stood there and shook their heads and kept thinking, "Oh, gosh, I can't wait until this debate or this forum is over."
One of the things, though, is that Florida is a very big state. You have ten major media markets. It's a small country. So usually, in order to win Florida, you need a lot of money and you need to run a lot of ads on television.
But in Gillum's case, he had kind of a perfect storm. Not only did he kind of fit the profile perfectly for the times and this post-Bernie Sanders era, when there's a very active, in some cases, aggressive left that really wants progressive policies, but he also was able to have a variety of other well-funded candidates who kind of canceled each other out. As a result, Gillum was able to carry Tuesday's election and the Democratic primary in Florida with 34 percent of the vote, which is not a whole heck of a lot. What we don't know is how high his ceiling is. We certainly know this is his floor as far as the Democratic primary.
But this is going to set up a really fascinating contrast in November. Ron DeSantis was made as a candidate, almost made in a lab by President Trump. Loved Ron DeSantis's background. He's a congressman. He's an Iraq War vet. He's a Harvard-educated lawyer. And then on the Democratic side, you have this incredibly progressive African-American candidate in Andrew Gillum. You couldn't come up with a sharper contrast in style or substance.
BERMAN: We haven't seen this type of match up yet. We wondered what this might look like in 2016. You're going to see it in a couple months in Florida over the next two months where you have someone from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, trying to tap into that energy, going up against someone who is tapping into the Trump energy and the Republican Party.
The president is underwater in popularity in Florida. And maybe not as bad off as he is in some other states. Where do you see this headed? What do you see as being the major issues in this race?
CAPUTO: Well, the major issue in this race is the major issue in Florida politics, the United States politics, maybe in global politics. It's Donald Trump.
And one of the things we must do is not underestimate the popularity Donald Trump has among Republican voters. He is about a 90 percent approval rating among Florida Republican voters. He did win Florida in 2016. In addition to that, President Trump's approval rating currently in Florida is about where it was in 2016.
[06:05:09] CAPUTO: So if you put these factors together, it looks like a pretty good year for Republicans.
One other thing to add, is we've heard a lot about a blue wave for Democrats, and Democrats really had a strong turnout in Florida yesterday, 31 percent turnout rate, which is far higher than any midterm they've ever done. Certainly, it's almost double what they did in 2014. However, Republicans had a 36 percent turnout rate, which is far higher -- pardon me, it's a 35 percent turnout rate, which is the highest ever they've had.
So looking at possibly --
BERMAN: Mark --
CAPUTO: -- blue wave and a red wave.
BERMAN: Very quickly, you know, the cliche about Democratic politics in Florida, is want to run statewide. You've got Lawton Chiles. You've got to be Buddy MacKay, although Buddy MacKay never won. Senatorial/gubernatorial race there.
The idea that you have to be able to appeal up north and in the panhandle. This is a different model. Is there any reason to think it will work? It will be a first, correct?
CAPUTO: I think the reason to think it might work is that the other models haven't worked for Democrats in the past five elections. They're trying something new, and it's going to be a fascinating experiment to watch.
BERMAN: Mark Caputo, as I said, love reading your stuff. Please come back. Keep us posted as to what you see there, because quite often when it comes to Florida, you see it first. Thanks, Mark.
CAPUTO: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: OK. Let's bring in to talk about all of this, CNN Politics senior writer and editor, Harry Enten; CNN senior political analyst John Avlon; and White House reporter for Bloomberg News Toluse Olorunnipa. Great to have all of you.
Toluse, what do you think about what we are seeing, first, in Florida?
TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, Mark Caputo, my former colleague down in Florida, put it brilliantly. He broke down what we're likely to see in November, which is a clash of the two bases. The Donald Trump base on one side, the liberal progressive base on the other side. And both will be trying to turn out the base in Florida and try to, obviously, appeal to independents, but more importantly, try to get those voters who either turned out in 2016 on the Trump side or did not turn out on the Hillary side in 2016 -- young people, minorities -- and get them to the polls in what would likely be record turnout for a midterm election.
I am from Tallahassee, so I'm familiar with Andrew Gillum. I know he has the sort of ability to give a good campaign speech, and he works with really good media people who put together great videos that have been able to sort of stir up the progressive base. He's talked about raising the minimum wage, abolishing ICE, expanding Medicaid.
On the other side, you have Ron DeSantis talking about building a wall and taking a very hardline immigration stance. So you're going to see a clash of two different policy ideals, and it will be very interesting to see which side prevails in November.
BERMAN: Harry, for everyone who always complains that there's no real choice in politics. Everything is really the same.
HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR WRITER AND EDITOR: Wrong. I mean, this is perhaps the greatest contrast of the entire country. You have a Trump-backed conservative against someone from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. And there were a lot of Bernie Sanders people who argued in 2016, "If only we had someone who drew a true contrast with Donald Trump, we would have won." Well, now you get that shot.
So it's a major gamble with a potential huge payoff for the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. Not just in 2018, but as we head into the 2020 cycle where I think you'd see, if Gillum does, in fact, emerge victorious, candidates like him coming into the primary and saying, "Hey, we can win in the general election."
BERMAN: Can I ask you? As you watched the county results come in yesterday, was Gillum drawing more votes from some of those communities that would have needed to turn out in larger numbers to put Hillary over the top?
ENTEN: Absolutely. I mean, look, African-Americans and young progressives. Those were the two groups that really stayed home that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 but didn't do so in as high of numbers for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
If Gillum can get those voters out to the polls in the general election, it could be very good for him in -- come November.
CAMEROTA: What do you see, John?
AVLON: Well, look, you know, this is clearly a choice not only in that current election, but it's in the prototypical swing state, where a quarter of the voters are independent, and those numbers have doubled over the past two decades.
The question is, look, the young, charismatic candidate. Don't forget how much candidates matter in these things. It's not just the failing Democrats in the past were centrists. They weren't particularly compelling, and that can be critical. Can a mayor of Tallahassee, in a state that's increasingly urban, really appeal? Because that -- that floor he's got, 34 percent of the Democratic base, is not enough to play on the I-4 corridor and other key swing districts. He's going to have to branch out. And is DeSantis too extreme, or can he pivot back to the center?
BERMAN: One of the things I love about you, John, besides your references to Grateful Dead music, is clinging to the notion that independent voters still are truly independent and a driving force here. Because I don't know. I genuinely don't know if that's what we're seeing here. We call Florida a purple state, and it makes people think, "Well, there are all of these people in the middle here." Or it could just be there are some very, very red people in Florida and very, very blue people in Florida. And we're going to see battle between those two colors.
[06:10:05] AVLON: Well, I think -- I think this is a great debate, but it's one that I'm pretty confident that, if you look at independent voters, there's a reason they've doubled over two decades, and they've doubled nationally and locally at a time when the parties have become more polarized.
Obviously, the two parties' bases have an edge, because they tend to be more motivated. Not only can they take over their parties' primaries, effectively, but they can therefore play to the base game more well when it comes to geo-TV.
But at the end of the day, it is going to be swing voters who determine the outcome of elections. That's why you look at the I-4 Corridor; you look at Orange County; you look at Pinellas County. Those are traditionally where statewide races are won. Can Gillum play there?
Being a mayor of a big city is not as bad in Florida as you might think, stereotypically, because the state is almost at this point, you know, 60 percent urban. But he's really going to have to reach out beyond a progressive base to pull it out.
CAMEROTA: OK, so let's hear from him. So Andrew Gillum, the first -- well, I should say, yes, the first African-American Democratic nominee for governor in Florida. Here he was last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GILLUM (via phone): Well, I didn't talk a whole bunch about Trump as I moved around the state. We all know that the president is uniquely unqualified for the position that he holds. He is dangerous to himself and to the country, in my opinion.
But what we have talked about are everyday issues confronting people. You know, the truth is, is that for the communities that we've got to motivate, the communities that we've got to move, the communities that we have to inspire, they feel like they've had it worse before Trump and it's been bad for quite some time for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: So Toluse, you know, because you are from that area and know him, there's the counter argument against him, is that because this was such an upset that he's sort of untested? That he wasn't challenged as much as he would have been. That dirty laundry didn't come out as much during the campaign; people didn't think that he was going to win? What of that?
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, that is a good point. He's going to get a lot more attention. There's going to be a lot more money flowing into his coffers because of this upset win, and there's going to be a lot more scrutiny about his record in Tallahassee, his record in Democratic policy, Democratic politics.
He's going to have the opportunity to tell his story, and it is a pretty compelling story. He's the son of a bus driver and a construction worker. He came up sort of through the ranks. He started in politics very early, at the age of, I think, 22 starting on the city council. And it's a pretty compelling story that he's trying to hone and a story that can be useful not only to rile up the progressive base but also to go into some independent areas, to go into churches to talk about issues that he believes will be able to get voters who haven't voted in the past. The voters who aren't ideological, to come out and support him because they believe he has a charismatic story. He campaigned as the only non-millionaire on the Democratic side. And I think that's what he's going to try to do to rile up the base and to win over some independent voters.
But he's going to have a lot of scrutiny. There's going to be a lot of negative ads attacking him, as well.
BERMAN: I will note -- I will note he was the only nonmillionaire on the ballot, and he spent 6 million bucks, but he had Tom Steyer and George Soros backing him. The guy had a lot of money behind him, and I only imagine that will be much more coming up.
Mark Caputo, Harry, brought up the fact that Donald Trump will be the central issue in this campaign, as he will be all around the country.
ENTEN: You've got that right.
AVLON: I suspect that, if there's any place in the country that the president wants to play and play big, it will be Florida. I mean, he handpicked Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis is the mirror image of him in some ways. Donald Trump's got that Mar-a-Lago place he likes to go in Florida. He's not going to be able to resist to go there -- go there a lot and play big. How will people take that?
ENTEN: Look, I think it's been brought up before on this show, and certainly other shows on this network. And if you look at Trump's approval rating in Florida and you compare it to where it is nationally, and you look at other states, you see that he has lost the least amount of ground in Florida. In fact, his approval rating and his disapproval rating in Florida are not too far apart.
If Trump is going to play in a swing state nationwide, where he won't necessarily hurt the Republican candidate, it's in the state of Florida. And remember, a midterm electorate looks oftentimes different than a general election electorate. There are a lot of older voters in Florida, a key part of the Republican base. They turn out in midterm elections. There's a reason why there hasn't been a Democrat elected governor in Florida since 1994.
AVLON: And I'll say this. Like many New Yorkers, Trump is an honorary Florida resident with Mar-a-Lago and other places.
But the candidate that DeSantis beat, Putnam, was the ultimate establishment candidate. Guy's basically been running for governor since he was 22 years old. He had -- all the smart money was on him. He's been preparing for this for literally decades, had all the big endorsements. And Trump's endorsement of DeSantis overturned that, and that does speak to, I think, the environment within the Republican Party that Trump has stepped in.
BERMAN: And the 1995 version of this, would have been Adam Putnam versus Gwen Graham. There's no question. But it's clear that that's not where politics is today.
AVLON: No. And Gillum, a very compelling case.
ENTEN: I'd just point out: who was the last major Democrat to win statewide in the state of Florida. It was Barack Obama. So you want a young, progressive African-American candidate who can win statewide. We've seen the proof of in the last ten years.
CAMEROTA: All right. There you go. Thank you very much, panel. So fresh off his primary upset, Andrew Gillum will join us in the next hour of NEW DAY. So stick around for that.
[06:15:04] BERMAN: All right. The president told evangelical leaders behind closed doors that, if Republicans lose the midterms, there will be violence. A startling message. We'll discuss next.
BERMAN: All right. President Trump made a stunning claim. This was at a meeting at the White House, a dinner with evangelical supporters this week. Again, the doors were closed; the cameras were not rolling. He did not think it was being recorded. And he told them behind closed doors that if Republicans lose in the midterm elections, there will be violence.
This is exactly what he said: "People say, 'I'm not voting, because the president doesn't like Congress.' It's not a question of like or dislike. It's a question that they will overturn everything that we've done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently," he says. "There is violence. When you look at Antifa, these are violent people."
Now obviously, threw in that last sentence about Antifa. But it's not clear whether he was talking about them the whole time or whether he was saying Democrats will be violent if they win.
Let's bring back Harry Enten; Toluse Olorunnipa and John Avlon.
Toluse, first to you, again, this is the president of the United States saying that, in a peaceful election, the likes of which we see in America every two years, if his party loses there will be blood, literally.
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, this is the president -- you can say he's politicking, he's basically trying to stir up the emotion of fear in his voters, because he believes that fear is more motivational for voters to turn out than hope or than aspirations of what he's going to do or how he's going to advance an agenda. He wants people to be fearful that Democrats are going to take something away from them.
[06:20:17] He talked about on the campaign trail, if the Democrats win they're going to take away your Second Amendment. They're going to allow ICE -- they're going to abolish ICE and allow undocumented immigrants to flow across the border and start, you know, committing crime in your neighborhood.
So the president is trying to gin up fear, and this was an example of going pretty far to the extreme of saying that there's going to be violence and predicting violence in the streets if his candidates do not win in the upcoming election in November. It is unheard of to see a president sort of predict --
OLORUNNIPA: -- violence after a peaceful election, but it's -- it's not unheard of in the Trump era, where fear is a motivating political weapon.
CAMEROTA: John, I see so much to dive into here. The idea that he did this behind closed doors. That tells you something. That should tell all of us something. That the president is fear mongering purposely but not publicly. And he doesn't want to do it publicly, because he knows that it could be challenged. And he did it to evangelicals.
And there was another line, I believe, in that where he said, "You might want to mention this at the pulpit."
CAMEROTA: He was telling people, bring this to the people, bring this to the public. The fact that he is fear mongering and promising violence if Democrats win, what does that tell us about how nervous he actually is about what the Democrats -- whether they will sweep in the midterms?
AVLON: Well, it clearly is a sign of anxiety. But also, I think, a sense that the people vote out of fear not love.
What's different here is you say purposely but not publicly. He also makes these comments to people of faith. These are ministers. These are evangelicals. And he's not using fear in a way that politicians sometimes do: these policies are going to be antithetical to your beliefs; they'll be hostile. This is outright promises and threats of violence. So let's not normalize that.
This is a decided moving of the goal post from a president of the United States, in private, to a faith-based community, saying that there will be violence, presumably against them, and him and his administration, if the Democrats win. That is a dangerous new low.
BERMAN: Democrats are a physical threat to you.
BERMAN: Which is a strange campaign platform. And Harry Enten, what's interesting is I don't think it's one he needs when he's dealing with evangelicals. This is a group that was a tremendous source of support for him in the election. He did very well. And has been a tremendous source of support for his 20 months or so inside the White House.
ENTEN: No, but I think it just tells you where his head is at, right? That this is the only game he knows how to play. And when he's backed into a corner, he starts to say things that normal politicians and normal Americans wouldn't do. Starts to bring up conspiracy theories.
You know, you go back to 2016. Remember when he thought he was going to lose. He was like, "Oh, I don't believe the election results. If I lose, we should challenge everything."
Here, we have a similar idea going on, where we're taking something that's completely out of the realm of normal political conversation and we're bringing it forefront because he is afraid that he might lose, and he wants to gin people up.
AVLON: In a room in the White House, he quoted the quote put on the mantle of that room, which is a quote to John Adams. And he quoted the prayers at the top. But the bottom line of that quote is, "May none but wise and honest men govern here." There is nothing wise or honest about taking demonization of your political opponents to the level of threatening violence, the presidency.
CAMEROTA: I'm so glad that you're making that point. As as aside, he also told them that he got rid of the Johnson Amendment, which was this 1954 provision that, you know, was about tax law and whether or not faith-based organizations and churches could support political organizations. But that was wrong.
CAMEROTA: I mean, do they know that that was not true what he told them? And why he -- why he would tell them a fabrication like that? I mean, doesn't that sort of undercut whatever else he says, Toluse?
OLORUNNIPA: Yes, and I think he president realizes that complacency is probably his biggest enemy in this upcoming election. He said it on the campaign trail, that people during midterm elections become complacent. So he's trying to not only gin up fear but also tell them that he's done more for them than he probably has been able to deliver so far.
He's trying to make sure that his voters turn out in the upcoming election, and saying that, you know, "I passed a law" that never got passed is one way to do it. I don't know how effective that's going to be. But he's really trying to -- to make sure that his voters aren't complacent.
And you have to remember that the idea that Democrats could take over the House is a big source of fear in the White House. We're talking about subpoenas. We're talking about the president's tax returns becoming public. We're talking about all kinds of public hearings, unveiling a lot of the corruption and scandals that Democrats believe have been happening in this administration.
So I think it's starting to dawn on the president that if his voters ae complacent and if he does lose the House or the Senate in this upcoming election, it could be a world of pain for him. So that's part of the reason he's using such extreme language.
BERMAN: Yes, he signed an executive order mitigating some of the aspects of the Johnson -- you know, Johnson rules, saying that the IRS shouldn't go after it hard. But that doesn't get rid of it. He wanted it to be part of the tax bill. It was removed.
[06:25:10] I don't know whether he forgot that or he's being dishonest about that. Either way, it is interesting.
Harry, I want you to close one second with what happened in Arizona. Martha McSally got the Republican nomination there, beating out Ward and Sheriff Arpaio. What does this race look like to you going forward? This is a potential Democratic pick-up.
ENTEN: I mean look, if Democrats are going to take back the Senate, they need a net pick-up of two. This is one of the two best opportunities. If they can't win here, then they -- their chances of winning the Senate are completely pretty much goodbye.
I will say the polls do show that Sinema winning, but keep in mind that McSally faced a very bruising primary, and let's see if she's able to gather up the undecided voters as we head into the general.
AVLON: And McSally's a very good general election candidate, certainly compared to Kelli Ward. So that contrast, two women running for the Senate seat in Arizona, tradition of going Republican in recent years. McSally -- if anyone can resist that blue wave, McSally's well-positioned.
ENTEN: And I would just say, in contrast to Florida, two moderate candidates here, not the bases that are facing off.
BERMAN: All right. Harry, Toluse, John Avlon, thank you very much.
CAMEROTA: OK. The first memorial for Senator John McCain begins just hours from now. Emotional ceremonies are set to begin in his home state. We have all of that, next.