Donald Trump: He Creates His Own Chaos – The town hall Wednesday night appeared at first to look good for Trump, and bad for CNN. But in the long term, Trump may regret the things he said on television.
The news last week that Donald Trump would appear for a town hall on CNN, in his first appearance on the network in more than five years was greeted with significant controversy, especially from those who are opposed to the former president.
CNN, they argued was “normalizing” Trump, and giving him a platform. They were failing to learn the lessons of 2016, and they were selling out their journalistic principles for the sake of ratings. Others stated that this indicated CNN taking a more centrist tack, under its boss Chris Licht, and the newish ownership of Warner Bros. Discovery.
Others argued that it’s not CNN’s job, as a news organization, to help or hurt a specific candidate and that it would be journalistically wrong to ignore a top presidential candidate. And putting Trump on the air, especially under the questioning of a journalist, would create the possibility of the former president saying something newsworthy.
After all, there isn’t really a right way to interview Trump on television. Don’t push hard enough? He’ll get all his lies through unchallenged. Push too hard? He’ll call you biased, or worse.
Now that the town hall has taken place, the conventional wisdom is that CNN blew it. They gave Trump an hour of airtime to state numerous false things, some of them — but not all — challenged in real-time by interviewer Kaitlan Collins. CNN went on to publish a fact check of their own town hall after it was over.
Also, the town hall was held before an audience of Republicans, mostly pro-Trump voters, who gave Trump applause for even his most incendiary lines. At one particularly disquieting moment, Collins brought up the jury verdict the day before that Trump had sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll- and a portion of the audience laughed.
CNN’s leadership, at least, seems to think the night went well. In a 9 a.m. staff call this morning — reported on Twitter by Brian Stelter, who worked for CNN until recently — Licht praised Collins for a “masterful performance last night.” He also said that “You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say that we didn’t get them,” and “Kaitlan pressed him again and again and made news. Made a LOT of news.” Collins, it was reported earlier on Wednesday, is likely to be named the network’s new 9 p.m. host.
There are also indications that there was unhappiness within CNN about the evening- including a report by CNN’s own media reporter, Oliver Darcy, in a CNN newsletter.
“It’s hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,” Darcy wrote. And while he praised Collins for pushing back against Trump, he noted the limited effectiveness of doing so.
“Trump frequently ignored or spoke over Collins throughout the evening as he unleashed a firehose of disinformation upon the country, which a sizable swath of the GOP continues to believe. A professional lie machine, Trump fired off falsehoods at a rapid clip while using his bluster to overwhelm Collins, stealing command of the stage at some points of the town hall.”
So the town hall was an unmitigated win for Trump, right?
Maybe not. In stating false and inflammatory things, over and over again, Trump may have given a gift to his opponents in the 2024 election.
The former president’s opponents were handed new footage of Trump making incendiary statements about the “stolen election,” January 6, his rape trial, and a half-dozen other things. Might President Biden, or another future opponent, produce a commercial with Trump smirking, as his audience applauds the mention of the sexual abuse verdict that went against him the previous day?
So the town hall looks like a win for Trump now, but it could come back to bite him, by reminding them of cumulative things that caused the electorate to reject Trump, in 2020.
Expertise and Experience: Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.