Spangld watched the Trump CNN town hall so you don’t have to.
CNN’s town hall with former President Donald Trump, hosted by CNN anchor Kaitlan Collins, quickly devolved into a combative back-and-forth between Trump and Collins over Trump’s false claims about 2020 election fraud, the Jan 6. Capitol riot, abortion, the War in Ukraine, and Tuesday’s verdict that found him liable for sexual assault and defamation.
- Right from the start, Trump pulled no punches. “It was a rigged election,” he said, and the former President proceeded to double down on his false claims that the 2020 election was “rigged” with “millions of fraudulent ballots” and steamrollered over Collins when she tried to correct the record.
- Collins asked Trump about Tuesday’s jury verdict that found him liable for sexual assault and defamation and ordered him to pay E. Jean Carroll $5 million in damages.
- Trump expressed no contrition or remorse for his actions and attacked the verdict as illegitimate and a form of “election interference.” He even went further and said he stood by his comments in the infamous Access Hollywood tape that nearly derailed his 2016 campaign.
- Trump then tried to turn his legal defeat into a punchline by retelling Carroll’s story to the audience in a mocking fashion. “CNN has put on a show where Trump has the crowd laughing about his being found liable by a jury for sexual abuse.,” Ramesh Ponnuru, the editor of National Review tweeted.
- Trump was similarly defiant when asked about the classified document probe. Trump said flat-out, “I took the documents, I’m allowed to,” appearing to directly contradict recent statements from his attorneys claiming the documents were accidently swept up during the move-out process.
- The former President and his team were clearly well-prepared for the inevitable questions about his conduct regarding the January 6th Capitol riot. Trump had a planned bit where he made a show of pulling out a list – to laughter and applause from the audience – of his statements in the runup to January 6. Trump appeared to take the entire issue as a joke.
- When asked if he should apologize to former Vice President Mike Pence, who has said Trump put him and his family in danger on that day, Trump replied, “No, because he did something wrong,”
- Trump said he did not think Pence was in any danger on Jan. 6 and that he did not owe Pence an apology for his actions because Pence refused to interfere with the electoral counting process – something Pence had no legal authority to do – despite excessive cajoling by Trump.
- Trump pledged to pardon a “large portion” of the January 6 rioters convicted of federal officers. He praised them as former police or soldiers, while refusing to acknowledge the large number of police officers who were assaulted by the rioters when Collins brought that up. The President praised the rioters while calling the police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt a “thug.”
- Trump refused to get pinned down on the question of what kind of federal abortion restrictions he’d sign into law. Trump instead expressed pride that he appointed the Supreme Court Justices who overturned Roe v. Wade that “gave pro-life a negotiating position” and merely said he’d “do the right thing for the country.”
- As Dan McLaughlin of National Review tweeted. “Trump [is] reverting to his core belief about Roe v Wade, discussing how eliminating Dobbs allows negotiated deals. In his core, Trump sees democracy as a form of negotiation.”
- The former President also countered that the opposition were the real extremists, citing late term abortions and ex-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s infamous remarks about deciding whether to kill a baby after it had been born.
- Trump made a series of contradictory statements about the war in Ukraine. He vowed to get Europe to pony up more money to support Ukraine, implying he supports Ukraine, but he refused under sustained questioning from Collins to say he wanted Ukraine to win. He also promised to get Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky together to negotiate peace in a day.
- Politico called the town hall “cable carnage” and “televised combat.” On every topic of the night, from his conduct on Jan. 6 to his refusal to acknowledge his defeat in the 2020 election, Trump refused to back down, to the applause of the largely Republican audience.
- The New York Times wrote the town hall signaled to the voters that “criminal investigations, a jury holding him liable for sexual abuse and ongoing struggles with swing voters have not changed him a bit.” The Times also noted that the town hall represents Trump’s first appearance on a major non-conservative television network since 2020.
- CNN highlighted one exchange that most other outlets didn’t cover: Trump’s suggestion that the “zero tolerance” policy of family separation as a way to disincentivize illegal immigration could make a return should he win the White House. “When you say to a family that if you come, we’re going to break you up, they don’t come,” Trump said.
- As Fox News observed, the interactions between Trump and Collins grew increasingly acrimonious as the town hall went on. In response to a question from Collins about why he took classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and refused to return them, Trump retorted, “You’re a nasty person.”
- Some Democratic lawmakers and media personalities criticized CNN for holding a town hall with Trump in the first place, National Review noted. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted: “They have lost total control of this ‘town hall’ to again be manipulated into platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim. The audience is cheering him on and laughing at the host.”
- As the New York Post noted, while the Trump campaign said the town hall proved he is the “only one” who can save the US, the super PAC supporting Ron DeSantis called the event “over an hour of nonsense that proved Trump is stuck in the past. After 76 years, Trump still doesn’t know where he stands on important conservative issues like supporting life and the Second Amendment. How does that Make America Great Again?”
© Dominic Moore, 2023