The morning after CNN’s calamitous Donald Trump town hall, network chief Chris Licht passionately defended the network’s decision to provide the ex-president with a primetime platform to spew an endless stream of lies and conspiracies, all while unleashing gross misogynistic attacks on a woman he sexually abused AND the network’s own anchor.
In a Thursday morning call with CNN staffers, many of whom were incensed over the on-air fiasco, Licht applauded Kaitlan Collins’ attempts to fact-check Trump and force him to answer questions while boasting of the event’s inherent news value. “Kaitlan pressed [Trump] again and again and made news,” Licht said, adding that it “made a LOT of news,” and that is the “job” of CNN.
“And I’ll say this as clearly as I possibly can: You do not have to like the former president’s answers, but you can’t say we didn’t get them,” Licht added. “America was served very well by what we did last night. People woke up and they know what the stakes are in this election in a way they didn’t the day before.”
But outside of the intense criticism CNN has faced over the town hall—both internally and publicly—and the backlash over Trump’s predictably boorish behavior in front of a partisan crowd, did the network actually make “a LOT of news”? Especially when it comes to exposing any new policy positions from Trump ahead of the 2024 presidential election?
While Licht privately lectured his staff about the need to appeal to “a large swath of America” that they’ve previously pretended doesn’t “exist,” and anchor Anderson Cooper scolded outraged CNN viewers for “staying in your silo,” almost everything Trump said on Wednesday night was just a rehash of his previously stated positions.
On the topic of abortion, a hot-button issue that will likely be pivotal in state and national races next year, Collins asked whether Trump would sign a federal abortion ban into law if he retakes the presidency. In his rambling response, the ex-president said he “was honored” to have nominated the conservative Supreme Court justices that helped overturn Roe v. Wade before boasting about his “great negotiating ability” to “get something done” on abortion.
After Trump said some conservatives want a federal ban of “six weeks” or even “two weeks,” he went on to falsely claim Democrats want abortion even “after the baby is born.” Collins again asked whether he supported a federal abortion ban and how weeks of pregnancy he thought it should be limited to, only for the former president to dodge.
Of course, ever since the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion last year, Trump has boasted that this was “only made possible” due to his presidency, adding that “it was my great honor to do so.” Furthermore, last month, Trump did not rule out signing a federal abortion ban into law, saying he’s “gonna look at it” and that he knows “the issue better than most and we will get that taken care of.”
One eyebrow-raising moment in the town hall featured Trump saying that the United States would “have to do a default” if Democrats didn’t agree to “massive “spending cuts, adding that Congress “might as well” do it now. After joking that he is no longer opposed to using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge because “now I’m not president,” Trump then shrugged off how consequential a default would be by saying “it’s really psychological more than anything else” and could be “nothing.”
But, again, this isn’t really a new position for Trump. Since at least January, he has been encouraging Republicans to “be tough” and not “give in” throughout the debt ceiling negotiations, adding that they “can get back almost everything” Democrats have passed legislatively since President Joe Biden took office. He’s even gone so far as to say a possible default would be “A BEAUTIFUL AND JOYOUS THING” for America.
Elsewhere in the town hall, Trump refused to fully commit to accepting the results of the 2024 presidential election if he didn’t win, effectively echoing his same stance before the 2020 election. “Yes, if I think it’s an honest election, absolutely, I would,” he told Collins, adding: “If I think it’s an honest election, I would be honored to.” During his only debate with Biden in 2020, Trump would only say “I want to see an honest ballot count.”
And while he also told Collins that he only feels Democrats can win by “cheating,” this is a stance he has taken repeatedly since before the 2020 election and has parroted again and again in recent months. The same goes for his constant lies about the 2020 election being “rigged” and stolen, which was a subject he obsessed over during much of the town hall. The news here would have been if Trump actually did attempt to move on from his loss to Biden.
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Another area where he merely repeated his previous position was when it came to pardoning Jan. 6 rioters who’ve been convicted for taking part in the Capitol insurrection. “I would say it will be a large portion of them… and it’ll be very early on,” he said on Wednesday night. However, over the past couple of years, Trump has consistently declared that he would pardon those charged with crimes related to the attack on the Capitol if he returned to the White House. Just last September, for instance, he claimed he would hand out “full pardons” along with “an apology.”
Though Trump calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “smart guy” while defending him against “war criminal” allegations was a low point on Wednesday night, this was once more ground well tread.
As Moscow began its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last year, Trump called the Russian autocrat “savvy” and a “genius.” And after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—Trump’s top rival for the GOP nomination—made headlines by labeling Putin a “war criminal” for the atrocities in Ukraine, Trump fumed that this was “exactly the kind of simple-minded thinking that has produced decades of failed diplomacy and ultimately war.”
Piggybacking on Trump’s Putin apologia, he also told Collins that he could end the war in Ukraine in just 24 hours. Of course, he’s been throwing that line around for months now, such as at the New Hampshire GOP annual meeting in January. Naturally, he told his close pal Sean Hannity the same thing a few weeks ago, claiming he would “have it solved in 24 hours with Zelensky and with Putin” but that he didn’t “want to tell you what it is because then I can’t use that negotiation; it’ll never work.”
At the same time, he also refused to say who he supported in the war, claiming he doesn’t “think in terms of winning and losing” and that he simply wants “everybody to stop dying.” Besides running hand-in-glove with his warm relationship with Putin, Trump had already previously suggested that he’d let Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine if he were president.
Finally, while discussing immigration, Trump said on Wednesday night that he would reimplement his zero-tolerance policy and bring back family separation at the southern border, adding that it was an effective deterrent. Of course, it is hard to say this is breaking new ground considering that while he was president, he repeatedly expressed his desire to restart his family separation policy because “far fewer people would come” and it was the most effective method to deter migrants.
Ultimately, it’s unclear how the disastrous town hall made “a LOT of news”—unless you’re just counting the bevy of headlines on how CNN’s town hall was disastrous.