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Trump Knows His Audience Really Well

They're As Odious As He Is

Writing for Punch Bowl in the wee hours, Andrew Desiderio outlined the disagreements riling Senate Republicans regarding Señor Trumpanzee. The former head of the NRSC, Todd Young (IN), who blames Trump for the loss of the Senate, “said he’s going to continue making the case to his colleagues that Trump is a loser when it comes to elections. ‘It’ll be a point of disagreement in the conference, though I would be surprised if it became contentious between us,’ Young said. ‘I don’t think there’s any problem with acknowledging that President Trump has habitually lost at the ballot box. And that’s certainly an important view that needs to be vocalized.’” McConnell and his leadership team hate Trump’s guts and she him as an existential threat to their own careers and to the party. “John Cornyn (TX), a potential successor to Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader, said flat-out that he doesn’t think Trump can win in 2024, citing in part a lack of an effort to expand his appeal beyond core supporters. Senate Minority Whip John Thune, another possible McConnell successor, said he hopes Republican primary voters will have ‘other options.’” And then there are the morons, like Missouri MAGAt Eric Schmidt who spouted the dishonest Trump campaign talking points: “I support him because we had record wage growth across the board, we had a secure border, we had jobs. And I think if you look at the recent polling, he is up and his margin continues to grow I’ve made my intentions clear. There’s a lot on the line.”

There’s especially a lot on the line for Señor T, who could wind up spending the rest of his miserable life in prison. (Don’t get your hopes up; that won’t happen… even if it means Biden would have to pardon him.) As Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman wrote in their coverage of the CNN show today Trump “said he was ‘inclined’ to pardon ‘many’ of the rioters arrested on Jan. 6, 2021, after the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob during certification of President Biden’s Electoral College win… As time has worn on, Trump has increasingly wrapped his arms around what took place at the Capitol and incorporated it into his campaign. Wednesday night was no exception… He deemed his legal jeopardy with comments on investigations. The most heated exchange that Trump had with Collins was over the special counsel investigation into his possession of hundreds of presidential records, including more than 300 individual classified documents, at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, after he left office. And it was the area in which he walked himself into the biggest problems. ‘I was there and I took what I took and it gets declassified,’ said Trump, who has maintained, despite contradictions from his own former officials, that he had a standing order automatically declassifying documents that left the Oval Office and went to the president’s residence. ‘I had every right to do it, I didn’t make a secret of it. You know, the boxes were stationed outside the White House, people were taking pictures of it,’ Trump said, intimating that people were somehow aware that presidential material and classified documents were in them (they were not). In what will be of great interest to the special counsel, Jack Smith, Trump would not definitively rule out whether he showed classified material to people, something investigators have queried witnesses about, in particular in connection with a map with sensitive intelligence. ‘Not really,’ he hedged, adding, ‘I would have the right to.’ At another point he declared, ‘I have the right to do whatever I want with them.’ He also defended himself for a call he had with Georgia’s secretary of state in which he said he was trying to ‘find’ enough votes to win. ‘I didn’t ask him to find anything,’ Trump said.”

There are clear publicly available recordings of him asking exactly that.

"Flag Waver" by Nancy Ohanian

Politico covered the event: “To call it a shitshow,” wrote Rachel Bade, Eugene Daniels and Ryan Lizza, “would be generous.”… Over and over again, a self-assured Trump lied and rewrote history. He claimed to have finished the border wall. (He didn’t.) He asserted that he’d been ‘exonerated’ from accusations that he attempted to strong-arm Ukraine into digging up dirt on Biden. (He wasn’t.) He refused to apologize to Mike Pence for putting him in harm’s way on Jan. 6 and insisted that his ex-VP had the power to overturn the election. (He didn’t.) He called Michael Byrd— the Black Capitol Police lieutenant who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt while protecting lawmakers during the storming of the Capitol— a ‘thug.’ (He isn’t.) He called Jan. 6 ‘a beautiful day.’ (It wasn’t.) He defended his infamous ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ comments. (Really?) And the live studio audience— which seemed vocally pro-Trump, as if imported from Mar-a-Lago— ate it up. They cheered when he denied moderator Kaitlan Collins’ factual assertion that he took three hours to tell the Jan. 6 rioters to go home. They applauded when he called E. Jean Carroll— who one day earlier was awarded $5 million in damages from Trump for his sexual abuse and defamation of her— a ‘whack job.’ They laughed when he called Collins ‘nasty’ and questioned whether she understood what she was talking about… The furious pace of his falsehood made them impossible to counter in real time. Trump just filibustered. And many of Collins’ fans came away feeling like CNN had put her— a rising star and widely respected journalist— in a no-win situation. The night underscored how CNN has changed under the management of Chris Licht. Not that long ago, CNN star anchor Jake Tapper refused to have GOP lawmakers who declined to certify the 2020 election on his show. Now, the network appears to have done a 180.

The event was widely panned “By the end of the night,” continued the Politico trio, the reviews were abysmal. The words ‘disaster’ and ‘disgrace’ were plastered all over Twitter. On MSNBC, host Alex Wagner called the spectacle an ‘hour of misinformation, lies and disinformation.’ Matt Fuller, Washington bureau chief of the Daily Beast, railed against the forum as ‘journalism malpractice’ evidence that the media has ‘absolutely learned nothing.’ ‘Does CNN count that as an in-kind campaign donation?’ asked Dan Rather.”

CNN’s own media newsletter, Reliable Sources, excoriated the whole sordid affair. “It's hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,” wrote Oliver Darcy. [Trump] “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. Trump lied about the 2020 election. He took no responsibility for the January 6 insurrection that those very lies incited. And he mocked E. Jean Carroll's allegations of sexual assault, which a jury found him liable for on Tuesday. And CNN aired it all. On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump's unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics… [F]or most of the night, the nation's eyes were transfixed on Trump's abuse of the platform that he was given. At one point, he even insulted Collins, calling her a ‘nasty person,’ to which the crowd of New Hampshire Republican primary voters broke out in cheers.

Trump's team was, naturally, delighted with the result, according to reports. "Advisers to Trump are thrilled at how this is going so far for him," the NYT's Jonathan Swan reported. "They can’t believe he is getting an hour on CNN with an audience that cheers his every line and laughs at his every joke."
Neither could anyone else.
While Collins is largely receiving praise for her relentless fact-checking of the former president, she was facing an impossible task. CNN and new network boss Chris Licht are facing a fury of criticism— both internally and externally over the event.
How Licht and other CNN executives address the criticism in the coming days and weeks will be crucial. Will they defend what transpired at Saint Anselm College? Or will they express some regret?
For now, CNN is defending itself.
…The Sidebar
  • "The predictably disastrous [CNN] town hall was indeed disastrous," television news vet Mark Lukasiewicz tweeted. "Proving again: Live lying works. A friendly MAGA crowd consistently laughs, claps at Trump’s punch lines - including re sex assault and Jan 6 - and the moderator cannot begin to keep up with the AR-15 pace of lies." (Twitter)

  • "This thing was madness, total madness," Bill Carter said. "Like giving a microphone to Drunk Uncle and saying: go for it!" (Twitter)

  • "This is CNN's lowest moment as an organization," James Fallows argued. (Twitter)

  • "THIS is the 2024 Republican presidential primary," Brian Stelter wrote. "Look away if you choose, but this is what it's going to be like. Should news outlets sanitize it or stare it in the face?" (Twitter)

  • To that point: "I have complaints, but I don’t really blame CNN for having a townhall with the GOP front runner," Sarah Longwell argued. "It’s good to know what we’re facing. We can’t hide from the fight in front of us. Trump is probably going to be the nominee and we need to be clear-eyed about what we’re dealing with." (Twitter)

  • "This was a preview of what American journalism can expect from a 2024 campaign featuring Mr. Trump, who despite his ubiquity in political life has rarely appeared on mainstream TV outside of Fox News since leaving office," Michael Grynbaum wrote. (NYT)

  • Justin Baragona said CNN was walking away from the town hall "with a lot of egg" on its face. "At the same time, I feel like Kaitlan Collins is doing as good as she can in this situation," he added. (Twitter)

  • "Chris Licht said he wouldn't allow anyone on his network that said it's raining when it's not," Alex Sherman pointed out. "But he's let someone on now who says it's raining when it's not, and he added hundreds of people to applaud when he does it." (Twitter)

  • "Trump seemed to have a significant home field advantage over Collins," Jeremy Barr wrote. (WaPo)

  • "Props to [Collins] who was in an impossible position but did a heroic job of fact-checking Trump throughout the town hall," Peter Baker tweeted. "No easy task given how many factually untrue things he said in such a short time." (Twitter)

  • "Even in a world where [Collins] was correcting every Trump lie as they spewed forth— and we are pretty far from that world— the braying crowd would make Trump look like the victor," contended Jonathan Chait. (Twitter)

  • "This was not Kaitlin Collins’ fault," Charlie Sykes said. "The format was impossible and CNN’s bosses should have known that." (Twitter)

  • "This format programmed her— and the country— for failure," echoed Tom Nichols. (Twitter)

  • "This isn't [Collins'] fault (she is doing the best one can), but this is a gushing geyser of disinformation that is cannot be fact-checked in real time," added Dan Pfeiffer. (Twitter)

  • Democratic politicians were livid: "CNN should be ashamed of themselves," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. (Twitter)

  • Seung Min Kim reported that the televisions on Air Force One, which "are always" tuned to CNN, were changed to show MSNBC during the town hall. (Twitter)

You think Darcy was tough? Rolling Stone was savage. Michael Fanone: “Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did. It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them.”

And so was Charlie Sykes: “Critics had worried that giving the indicted, twice-impeached, coup-plotting, chronically lying sexual predator an unedited, live television forum might turn out badly. The reality, however, was far ghastlier: a shitshow for the ages, and a moment that captured the thorough degradation of both our politics and the media. ‘It was a fucking nightmare,’ remarked one savvy observer, ‘and it was programmed to BE a fucking nightmare.’ Trump was, of course, thrilled.”

Mondaine Jones, who works as a CNN commentator now, Wrote that “The audience reactions during CNN’s presidential town hall with Trump show that America is in greater danger than perhaps many of us thought. The assembly of Republican and ‘undeclared’ voters at St. Anselm College in the critical early primary state of New Hampshire stood behind Trump, raucously applauding the former president throughout the night despite the stream of falsehoods he uttered— including lies about the 2020 election being stolen. They applauded when he said he would consider pardoning ‘a large portion’ of the January 6 insurrectionists, whose violence he greatly downplayed. They also laughed when he mocked E. Jean Carroll, who won a civil lawsuit against him on Tuesday, with a federal jury finding Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming her. These reactions show how entrenched Trumpism is within the Republican Party. The audience members who applauded Trump’s lies and immoral behavior on stage represent a Republican electorate that largely rejects widely disseminated, clear evidence contradicting what it wants to believe or— worse— knows is the truth and doesn’t care.”

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