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CNN's #TrumpTownHall Dumpster Fire
Here's the real "news": Donald Trump is old, his supporters are mean, and he can't win a general election
Happy Friday, friends: it’s going to be a beautiful weekend in the East, school is done, and the future is very bright. Won’t you
and ask a friend to join us?
I admit I didn’t go into Wednesday’s CNN Town Hall with former President (and 2024 hopeful) Donald Trump fully committed, and I only lasted 30 minutes. That said, it may be the first time I have turned off a political event before it was over.
I bet CNN’s White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, also wanted to turn it off. So instead, she seems to think she performed a public service in that “pristine white pantsuit,” a “ceremonial public expression of female strength,” as the New York Times’s Vanessa Friedan described it. But Collins is sticking to her guns that the event was not a ratings stunt, as many had charged. “The 70 minutes I spent on stage in New Hampshire with former President Donald Trump was a major inflection point in the Republican party’s search for its nominee,” Collins said the following day on CNN’s Primetime, “and potentially the starting line for America’s next presidential race.”
And yet, forgive most of us who would describe it as yet another chapter in the clown car that is Trumpism. We were told that the audience was made up of uncommitted and what New Hampshire calls “undeclared” voters—people who are not registered with either political party. Undeclared voters comprise a majority, or 39%, of the New Hampshire electorate.
Whether you are a Trump supporter probably has little to do with whether you are a registered Republican. I would even assume that, given that the MAGA movement is currently powered by people who are undeclared voters in New Hampshire, they are likely to be Trump voters.
But if these voters did not come into the hall as Trump supporters already, why did the event sound like, as The New Republic’s Prem Thacker put it, “more like a Trump lovefest and less like an earnest exploration of whether a criminal and sexual abuser deserves to be president?” Why did most people who asked questions sound like they were already in the bag for Trump? Why did CNN tell the audience that they could applaud but not boo? And why was CNN utterly unprepared for many people in the crowd to snicker and laugh along as Trump made fun of sexually assaulting E. Jean Carroll?
Trump was not particularly concerned by whether the broadcast would get high ratings, though he told CNN’s chief executive, Chris Licht, backstage that he would boost their ratings, to which Licht nodded and said he should have “a good conversation and have fun”, two of the people said.
Trump’s advisers saw the town hall ultimately as a strategic win for the former president, who revelled in playing off the live audience of Republican and Republican-leaning voters in New Hampshire, which is hosting the first 2024 GOP presidential primary, and talked over the CNN moderator, Kaitlan Collins, as she tried to factcheck him in real time.
Afterwards, Trump allies joked that the event in their eyes amounted to an hour of Trump infomercials and should be recorded as an in-kind campaign contribution, and that Trump’s nearest rival for the nomination, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, would be crushed in a similar debate.
I'm not sure those infomercials will play outside the Trump bubble. I thought he seemed a lot older, more tired, physically stooped over, and a little disheveled: I kept peering at the TV to see whether his fly was down too. But, more importantly, the looping, doubling down on lies, anger, and garbled sentences resembled early-stage dementia to me. And while outtakes from the Town Hall don't need to play outside the bubble for Trump to win the nomination, they actually do for him to build up the momentum among independents and voters he must get to win the presidency.
In fact, the event made clear that there is, as Megan Garber writes at The Atlantic, nothing new to learn about Trump. There aren't even any new lies. But this event did clarify two things.
First, he could not exist without being coddled by a media ecosystem that, as CNN's CEO Chris Licht, makes the news. In other words, if it isn't on a major news platform, it's not news; if it is, it can be the worst, most repetitive garbage you can imagine, and it counts as news.
The second thing that this clarifies—as if January 6, 2021, had not persuaded you—is that anyone who supports Donald Trump at this point—we are now talking eight years since he descended that golden escalator and characterized Mexicans as "rapists"—is a horrible human being. As Noah Berlatsky wrote in Aaron Rupar's Substack, Public Notice,
CNN's town hall was a reminder that Trump supporters are, in fact, bad people — in the sense that to support Trump and defend Trump requires them to become their absolute worst selves. Probably most of Trump's supporters did not tell themselves before the town hall started that they were there to cheer on sexual assault. But by the end, they were doing just that. That's how fascism works.
Thus, unless it breaks from this monster, the GOP will go down in history as a nasty political party full of bad, cruel people. Republicans have two choices at this point: fight like hell to nominate a conservative who is a moral, sentient human being.
It's been too long.
According to Jonathan Martin at Politico, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his campaign team believe that the polls will come roaring back once he officially enters the race for the 2024 Republican nomination. Why? “DeSantis and Trump have similar favorable ratings in Iowa, but 24 percent of Republicans there have an unfavorable view of Trump while only 14 percent of Iowa Republicans feel unfavorably toward DeSantis,” Martin writes. “Perhaps most notable in the conservative-dominated caucuses, DeSantis was viewed favorably by nearly 80 percent of those who call themselves `very conservative.’” (May 12, 2023)
Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in National Pork Producers vs. Ross that a California law that requires pork products sold in that state to come from humanely-raised pigs is Constitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch argued that businesses must comply with laws in the states where they do business, emphasizing a split on the court between conservative justices who are more pro-business and others who are more in favor of states’ rights. “The court’s conservatives have been divided in the past over striking down state laws that interfere with interstate commerce,” writes David Savage at the Los Angeles Times. “Gorsuch and Thomas said the court does not have that power, while Roberts, Alito, and Kavanaugh took a more pro-business view.” But don’t start cheering yet: this decision could affect other forms of interstate commerce affecting reproductive rights and technologies. (May 11, 2023)
When Ken Burns made popular historian Shelby Foote a star in a docuseries, did the filmmaker and PBS promote a neo-Confederate interpretation of the Civil War? Yes, they did. Among other things, Foote “rejected some Lost Cause shibboleths but embraced others,” Jonathan Clarke writes for the Hedgehog Review. Foote “did not deny that slavery was the chief political cause of the war, but he did deny that it was on the minds of those who did the fighting, whether Union or Confederate.” That wasn’t true, Clarke argues, “slavery remains a constant reminder of the fragility of American ideals; we are entitled, however, to the consoling fact that 360,000 Americans gave their lives to end it.” (Spring 2023)
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