It’s been well over two years since Trump lost the last presidential election, but we might as well still be binging “Tiger King” and washing our groceries.
During a CNN town hall filled with New Hampshire voters who planned to vote in the state’s first-in-the-nation GOP presidential primary ― the audience seemed to side more often with Trump than the network’s Kaitlan Collins, the moderator who fought an unwinnable battle to fact-check Trump in real time — the former president seemed frozen in time.
Even Trump’s insult of moderator Collins, calling her a “nasty person” for her fact checks, harkened back to the insults he’s used against other women. He famously called his then-opponent Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate in 2016.
The event made clear that Trump doesn’t intend to refine his approach at all to capture the votes that clearly eluded him in 2020. He’s still hellbent on talking about unpopular issues and acting as if he’s already the GOP nominee, despite the swelling GOP primary field and the opposition he’ll likely soon face from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Here are the takeaways from a bizzaro 2024 town hall.
Trump Acted Like He’s Already The GOP Nominee
Except for a mention or two of DeSantis — whom Trump has anointed with the clumsy nickname “DeSanctimonious” — the former president didn’t speak much about his possible opponents, undercutting the idea the town hall was for the primary.
Even though polls show Trump with a healthy early lead in the primary, he is acting as if his main opponent right now is President Joe Biden and ignoring the Republican rivals, declared or likely, who might ascend over the next year. Those include former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
Trump spent relatively little time going after Biden, either, despite his campaign releasing a statement that claimed Trump “laid out his vision to reverse the Biden Decline.”
Trump alluded to the polls that show him beating his next closest rival, DeSantis, after Collins asked him whether his recent loss in the civil case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of rape, might lose him votes. “My poll numbers just went up,” Trump said, to audience applause.
Trump Is Still Talking About Unpopular Issues
The town hall did not go well for CNN. But that doesn’t mean it went well for Trump.
While the former president declined to give a straight answer on a federal abortion ban — “what I will do is negotiate so that people are happy” — he took credit for the Supreme Court’s unpopular reversal of Roe v. Wade, giving Democrats a fresh soundbite when he called it a “great victory.”
The GOP needs to toe a delicate line after the 2022 midterms and subsequent special elections revealed the backlash to the elimination of abortion rights was far more intense than they expected. Polls consistently show a majority of the country is upset about the reversal of Roe, a ruling Trump enabled with the appointment of three of the Supreme Court justices who struck down the decades-old precedent.
Trump and the rest of the GOP presidential primary field are in a tricky spot: They need to woo conservative evangelicals in the presidential primary while not staking out an extreme position that would alienate moderates in the general election.
The former president has yet to moderate any of the previous stances that are similarly duds for voters. He opened the town hall harping on the 2020 election and his enduring lie that it was stolen, deflected blame for the Jan. 6 attack and the ensuing violence at the Capitol, and refused to condemn Russia and ensure military aid to Ukraine.
Democrats were excited by Trump’s performance. “It’s simple, folks,” Biden’s reelection campaign wrote on Twitter, providing a link to donate to the incumbent. “Do you want four more years of that?”