Thursday, May 11, 2023


I'm seeing a lot of complaints about CNN's Donald Trump town hall. I'm ambivalent about it.

I agree that CNN made a lot of choices that worked to Trump's advantage, the most obvious being the decision to give him airtime just as his civil trial was wrapping up, which meant he could use the appearance to knock the sexual assault and defamation case from the headlines. It was a mistake to let him have a town hall format heavy on audience questions, which were certain to be less hard-hitting than what a good journalist would ask. It was probably a mistake to assemble an audience of potential Republican primary voters (party members and undecideds) -- the crowd included many people who cheered when Trump bullied moderator Kaitlan Collins and called her "nasty," his go-to insult for women. (See the end of the video above.) Because of his height and weight, Trump will always be able to physically dominate any space in which he's interviewed by an average-size woman, and of course he'll take full advantage of that size difference if the woman challenges him, because he's a bully and a misogynist.

But the people who think this event shouldn't have happened apparently believe that Trump should never be given a forum in the mainstream media, from now until November 2024, I guess. Giving him this forum "normalized" him, they say.

But it's too late for that. Trump won the Electoral College in 2016 and nearly won it in 2020. He appears to be a slight favorite to win the popular vote in 2024, and he's all but certain to win the Republican presidential nomination. Two impeachments, an insurrection, a multi-count indictment, a civil verdict, and several ongoing investigations haven't made him a political pariah. Normalize Trump? He is normalized. It's too late to un-normalize him.

Instead of arguing that Trump shouldn't get airtime -- which gives his supporters the opportunity to say that we're afraid of him, and spreads his town hall message by applying the Streisand effect to it -- we need to use his lying and bullying to rally people who are disgusted by lying and bullying. (If those people don't constitute a majority of the electorate, then we're already doomed, and it's the electorate's fault, not Trump's.)

We need to highlight Trump's politically unpopular positions. Remind voters over and over again that Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who made the Dobbs decision possible, and also appointed the judge who banned the abortion pill -- and highlight the fact that last night he called Dobbs "a great victory" and refused to rule out signing an abortion ban. (If he'd been asked, I assume he would have said he's proud of Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, and Kacsmaryk, and that he'll appoint more people like them to the federal bench if he's elected again.)

Point out that Trump refused to take Ukraine's side in its war with Russia. I think Democrats should link this to Trump's "very fine people on both sides" remark about the deadly Charlottesville fascist rally in 2017. Message: How can we choose a president who can't tell the difference between right and wrong?

Remind voters -- especially female voters -- that Trump joked about the woman a jury said he sexually assaulted, while grossly distorting the facts:
"What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes you're playing hanky panky in a dressing room? I don't know if she was married then or not. I feel sorry for you John Johnson," Trump said to a chorus of laughter.
We aren't going to silence him. We just have to use his words and deeds to beat him.

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