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CNN's Town Hall With Donald Trump Was Good for Democrats ... and Democracy
Forcing Americans to directly confront the cruelty, heartlessness, and lunacy at the heart of Trump’s political appeal is ultimately the best and only way to defeat it.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, ’ absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality. If you were sent this email or are a free subscriber and would like to become a paid subscriber, you can sign up here.
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Trump’s Bad, Terrible, Awful Night
I know people will hate this take, but if you believe last night’s CNN town hall with Donald Trump was a win for the former president … you’re wrong. That is unless you think these ledes are good.
He refused to acknowledge he lost the last election. He said he’d pardon rioters at the U.S. Capitol. He condoned sexual assault and smeared a victim. He wouldn’t rule out restoring a policy of separating immigrant families at the border or say if he wanted Ukraine to defeat Russia. He countenanced defaulting on the national debt. And he dodged repeated questions on abortion.
Former president Donald Trump used his highly anticipated return to mainstream cable television news to give a broader swath of Americans an unvarnished view of what he has been saying at rallies and in right-wing media. The televised CNN town hall kicked off with Trump repeatedly refusing to accept his defeat in the 2020 election and defending the mob of his supporters who disrupted the peaceful transfer of power.
The Associated Press
During a contentious CNN town hall Wednesday night, former President Donald Trump dug in on his lies about the 2020 election, downplayed the violence on Jan. 6, 2021, and repeatedly insulted the woman whom a civil jury this week found him liable of sexually abusing and defaming.
Trump, returning to the network after years of acrimony, also refused to say whether he wants Ukraine to win the war against Russian aggression and said the U.S. “might as well” default on its debt obligation, despite the potential devastating economic consequences.
… Trump — who at one point snapped that [CNN host Kaitlin] Collins was “a nasty person” — continued to insist the 2020 election had been “rigged,” even though state and federal election officials, his own campaign and White House aides, and numerous courts have said there is no evidence to support his claims.
An unrepentant Donald Trump held firm to past grievances at the first televised town hall of the 2024 U.S. presidential election on Wednesday, stressing from the moment he took the stage that he has little intention of mounting a more disciplined campaign for his third White House bid.
In a contentious 70-minute broadcast, Trump drew laughter from a New Hampshire audience when he mocked writer E. Jean Carroll’s account of his having sexually abused her, repeated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss, said he would pardon many of his supporters convicted of taking part in a Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and called the CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person.”
None of this is good for Trump. And I guarantee you, more people will read Reuters’ and AP’s accounts of the town hall or will see coverage on their local news station than watched the CNN Town Hall live. As crazy as it is to say this, CNN did a genuine public service by giving Trump an hour to rant like the lunatic sociopath he is. I’m not joking here.
Mocking a victim of sexual abuse who just won a settlement against him, boasting that he appointed the Supreme Court judges who overturned Roe v. Wade, saying he would offer pardons to convicted January 6 rioters, calling on Congress to allow a debt default, refusing to say he wants Ukraine to win the war with Russia … none of these are popular positions. If anything, they remind people of all the reasons they don’t like Donald Trump — and as I’ve noted many times before, most Americans don’t like Donald Trump.
Last night will not sway voters to Trump’s side. It will likely further repel voters who can’t stand him. And the Biden campaign will be dining off clips of this town hall, with anti-Trump ads, for the next 18 months.
While last night will almost certainly help Trump in his quest to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, it will likely be disastrous in the long-run because it will remind non-MAGA America why reelecting him could be so dangerous (it may also remind them of how toxic Trump’s supporters are, many of whom laughed and cheered as he mocked a sexual abuse victim).
While many people have been dumping all over CNN — which didn’t cover itself in glory by allowing Trump partisans to hoot and holler in support of the former president — so much of the commentary about media coverage of Trump is stuck in 2016 thinking. When people say that the media has learned nothing from 2016 or that events like last night’s town hall benefit Trump, it’s as if they’ve been asleep for the previous seven years. Reporters are now far more inclined to call out Trump’s falsehoods, far less wedded to the notion of objectivity in how they cover him, and voters are much wiser to who Trump is than they were when he ran against Hillary Clinton in 2016. The more people see Trump, the less they like him.
I get that this is not an easy call. The argument that giving Trump a platform motivates his supporters and risks bringing others into his fold is persuasive. But ultimately, Trump cannot be wished away. Unfortunately, he is integral to our political conversation — and because so many Republicans continue to support him, he is likely to end up the 2024 GOP nominee. So, in my view, the best solution for dealing with Trump is to show more of him (as painful as that might be). I have long subscribed to the view that in a democracy, sunshine is the best disinfectant. While that didn’t necessarily work in 2016, it certainly did in 2018, 2020, and 2022. I understand why it’s hard for people with memories of 2016 to trust Americans to make the right choice with Trump on the ballot. But in a democracy, there aren’t many other choices. None of us can ignore a politician who garners so much political support — and that’s particularly true of a major news organization like CNN. Forcing Americans to directly confront the cruelty, heartlessness, and lunacy at the heart of Trump’s political appeal is ultimately the best and only way to defeat it.
If You Don’t Fight, You Can’t Win
I wrote something for MSNBC about the reaction of Trump’s GOP presidential rivals to E. Jean Carroll verdict.
As a general rule, if a presidential candidate were found liable in a court of law for sexual abuse, it would sound the death knell for their campaign. But as we’ve learned — painful reminder after painful reminder — when it comes to Trump and Republican voters, general rules don’t apply.
At the very least, one might expect that other candidates for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination would criticize the race’s front-runner. Maybe they’d point out that a man repeatedly accused of sexually assaulting women — and now found liable for doing so by a civil jury — is not the best choice to lead the party in the next presidential election. Instead, Republican presidential nominees only offered silence — or, even more bizarrely, defenses of Trump. If they won’t attack him for this, will they ever?
Except for Asa Hutchison, currently a footnote in the GOP presidential race, none of Trump’s rivals were willing to attack him over the Carroll verdict. Ron DeSantis said he was “too busy” to pay attention to it. Mike Pence said he’d “never heard or witnessed behavior” like that described by Carroll. Nikki Haley called the whole situation a distraction. Vivek Ramaswamy said, “This seems like just another part of the establishment’s anaphylactic response against its chief political allergen: Donald Trump.” (whatever that means). In short, every one of Trump’s rivals is a bunch of wimps afraid to challenge the former president. But if they can’t and won’t hit him after a jury finds him liable for sexual abuse and defamation, they might as well pack up the tents and go home. They’re not going to win.
What’s Going On
Check out William Saletan’s long read on how Lindsey Graham, as much as any other Republican politician, has emboldened and empowered Trump.
A bunch of hard-core conservatives took over a school board in Colorado … and you’ll absolutely believe what happened next.