CNN’s Town Hall Gave Trump a Platform and He Used It Exactly As Expected

Was there any way last night’s televised town hall with former President Donald Trump wasn’t going to turn into one long, free advertisement for his 2024 campaign? Trump lied about the 2020 election and about classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, told the female journalist interviewing him that she was “nasty,” and insulted the woman he was just found guilty of sexually abusing (“what kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes you’re playing hanky-panky in a dressing room?”) while insisting he’s never met her. But he did it with his characteristic humor, bravado, and showmanship, a say-anything shtick that many Americans—even those who may not agree with all of his policies or personal decisions—find appealing. And he was given the opportunity to do all this uninterrupted by opposing candidates.

This was CNN giving Trump a chance to put on a nice one-man show—and if that’s what the network wants do to, so be it. But one imagines that’s not actually what folks at CNN wanted to do. It just goes to show how little the media have learned about Trump since he burst into the political arena in 2015.

Complaints from pundits about the very premise of the town hall aren’t hard to come by. The audience was composed of people who plan to vote in the Republican primary who laughed and applauded easily at Trump’s antics. He steamrolled CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins, whom some are criticizing for her trouble pushing back against Trump. (Not everyone agrees, though; Collins was “in an impossible position but did a heroic job,” New York Times Chief White House Correspondent Peter Baker said.)

Most of the complaints boil down to one underlying thing: CNN simply handing Trump a megaphone to campaign in front of a nationwide audience, for free.

With that megaphone, Trump dared anyone to object that he had changed in the past eight or so years. There was no mistaking in Trump’s performance anything like reflection about his role in the whole Capitol riot fiasco (“one of the big problems was that Nancy Pelosi—crazy Nancy as I affectionately call her, crazy Nancy and the mayor of Washington were charged as you know of security, and they did not do their job,” he said) or less bombast about sexual antics in light of the recent verdict finding him guilty of sexual abuse.

During the trial, he had defended his Access Hollywood tape comments about women letting stars grab them “by the pussy.” He told Collins yesterday, “You would like me to take that back. I can’t take it back because it happens to be true.”

For Trump supporters, it was a lot of red meat. But for swing voters, Trump’s same-old act could backfire. There are a lot of folks who aren’t totally opposed to Trump, or at least really don’t like President Joe Biden, who are also turned off by some of Trump’s excesses—his continued fixation on the 2020 election, for instance. The way he resorts constantly to personal insults. His continued defense of crude comments about women.

The kind of stuff that his base loves is the kind of stuff that makes many moderates wary.

“It was kind of the same old thing, the same old regurgitation. He had a chance to move on from 2020, he didn’t do it,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper after the town hall. “So if you’re an independent voter, if you’re a suburban mom, all these voters that Republicans are trying to bring back into the mix, I don’t see any of them being convinced.”

“Whenever he was asked about the economy, he gave one brief response on energy policy, but really didn’t address the broad range of things we have in our economy to get it going again,” commented former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is challenging Trump for the Republican nomination.

To the extent that substantive issues came into play, Trump was his usual grab bag of idiosyncratic positions—not all of which are at odds with limited government or libertarian thought. He said Republicans were “going to have to do a default” on debt if Democrats wouldn’t agree to “massive cuts” in spending. He promised—though it’s unclear how this would be accomplished—to end the war in Ukraine “in one day, in 24 hours” if elected president, saying that his position was “I want everyone to stop dying.”

He also promised to bring back migrant family separations at the border. And he said he would only accept the 2024 election results “if I think it’s an honest election.”

Interestingly—and probably shrewdly—Trump would not say whether he would sign into law a federal ban on abortion. Rather, he promised to “make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what’s fair for the country.”


American conservatives are becoming more European. That’s not a good thing, suggests Francis Fukuyama at Persuasion:

One of the staples of my teaching of comparative politics over the years was to point out the differences between European and American conservatives. The former were generally comfortable with the exercise of state power, and indeed sought to use power to enforce religious or cultural values (the old unity of “throne and altar.”) American conservatives, on the other hand, were different in their emphasis on individual liberty, a small state, property rights, and a vigorous private sector. In Seymour Martin Lipset’s account of American exceptionalism, American politics were thoroughly imbued with a Lockean liberalism that saw the government limiting its own power through a strict rule of law. These principles defined the Republican Party under Ronald Reagan, which wanted lower taxes, deregulation, federalism, and multiple limits on state power.

This understanding of conservatism has now been upended with the rise of Trumpist populism. Trump himself was perfectly comfortable with big government spending, promising to protect entitlements and approving a huge Covid relief package even as he cut taxes. He was happy to use the Justice Department to go after his enemies, and chafed at the restrictions on police powers in putting down protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing in 2020.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has in recent months been trying to outdo Trump in his willingness to deploy the state to combat “woke” values. He has sought to take control of education materials at multiple levels, attempting to ban gender studies and critical race theory in state universities, and singled out the Disney Company—Florida’s largest employer—for punishment because it was too woke. These actions were framed not in terms of general rules for corporations in Florida, but punitive actions applying to a single company.

Reason‘s Stephanie Slade has written extensively about the new American right. A few pieces to check out:


The Food and Drug Administration has approved one brand of oral contraception for over-the-counter sale. It’s a welcome—and long overdue—step. Now the agency should move to make all birth control pills available without a prescription, Josh Bloom, director of chemical and pharmaceutical science at the American Council on Science in Health, and Jeffrey A. Singer, a surgeon and Cato Institute senior fellow, write:

For decades, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the vast majority of practicing reproductive physicians have called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make hormonal contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills) available over the counter (OTC) to women of all ages.

When experts in the field who get paid for prescribing hormonal contraceptives nonetheless keep telling patients, “You don’t need to see me for this,” government regulators should take notice. Women can get birth control pills OTC in over 100 countries, formally or informally,  around the globe. It’s time for them to be OTC in the “land of the free.”

The FDA might soon give access to a type of birth control pill that has been available only by prescription since 1973; in fact, today, an FDA panel voted unanimously to make birth control pills available OTC. But here’s a catch: women will only have access to one brand of one kind of birth control pill, a progestin-only pill sometimes called the “mini-pill.”

Unlike regular birth control pills, which contain two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, the mini-pill doesn’t affect milk production in nursing mothers and is less likely to cause blood clots in women who smoke. To put this in perspective, pregnancy is more likely to cause clots than any pill to prevent it.

But, the mini-pill, while it may be slightly safer to use than other birth control pills, has drawbacks.

For example, the mini-pill only works if women take it at the same hour daily. If they take it more than three hours late, women must use another contraceptive for the rest of the month and start the cycle again. The same is true if they miss a day. With regular birth control pills, if women miss a day in the cycle, they can take two pills the following day.

While better than the status quo, the FDA shouldn’t restrict women’s OTC options to safer progestin-only pills, not to mention one progestin-only product. Unlike regulators in, say, Portugal, Brazil, or Mexico, the FDA doesn’t think American women can weigh the risks and benefits of various birth control pills and decide which is best for them—even if reproductive specialists believe they can.

More here.


• Rep. George Santos (R–N.Y.) was indicted this week on federal charges of wire fraud and lying to Congress.

• Inflation rose again in April. New data show that “overall, prices rose by 0.4 percent in April…after ticking upward by just 0.1 percent in March,” notes Reason‘s Eric Boehm. “The annualized inflation rate fell to 4.9 percent, down slightly from March’s annualized rate of 5.0 percent. Even though those numbers are a far cry from the 9.1 percent annual rate posted as recently as last June, it’s a worrying sign that inflation seems to have settled into a range that’s significantly higher than it had been for decades.”

• The pioneering and influential parenting blogger Heather Armstrong—aka Dooce—has died. Her boyfriend told the Associated Press it was a suicide.

• I talked to Jonah Goldberg on The Remnant podcast about my recent Reason story “Storks Don’t Take Orders From the State.”

• Jesse Singal tackles a Scholastic books dust-up involving an author who refused “to delete references to racism from her book,” as The New York Times put it. “The Times article is threaded through with the idea that Scholastic did this in response to the accelerating right-wing campaigns to get certain books removed from school libraries and curricula around the country,” notes Singal. “But I think there’s more evidence to support the idea that the author’s statement simply reflected politically unpopular views that are likely to spook a corporate behemoth.”

• “Tucker Carlson’s announcement that he is moving to Twitter isn’t getting an enthusiastic reception on Madison Avenue, as many advertisers are already skittish about spending on the Elon Musk-owned social-media platform,” notes The Wall Street Journal.

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