Donald Trump is still Donald Trump.
His 70-minute stint in New Hampshire served as a vivid reminder that the former president only has one speed, and his second act mirrors his first. He is, as ever, a celebrity performance artist and remains the center of gravity in American politics, even out of office.
CNN’s decision to give him an unfiltered prime-time platform was a callback to the 2016 campaign, even as moderator Kaitlan Collins continually intervened to try to cut him off or correct him.
Mr. Trump was so focused on discussing and defending himself that he barely touched on President Biden’s record – the focus those close to Mr. Trump want him to keep. But he was disciplined when it came to his main expected primary rival.
Here are five takeaways.
Trump won’t let go of his lies about 2020 or January 6th
If viewers were hoping that Mr. Trump had moved on from his lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, he demonstrated once again, right out of the gate, that he didn’t.
The first questions Ms Collins asked were about Mr Trump’s refusal to acknowledge his losses in 2020 and his false claims of fraud.
“I think that, when you look at that result and when you look at what happened during that election, unless you’re a very stupid person, you look at what happens,” Mr Trump calling the loss of the election “rigged”. ,
Mr Trump later said he would be “willing” to pardon “many” of the rioters arrested on January 6, 2021, after a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol during the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory. Were. His escape from an obvious promise delighted those close to him.
He came armed with a list of his own Twitter posts and statements from that day — an idea that was his, said a person familiar with the plan. He lied about his inactivity that day when Ms Collins pressed him about what he was doing during the hours of violence. And he said he does not owe Vice President Mike Pence, whose life was threatened by the mob, an apology.
As time went on, Mr. Trump increasingly wrapped his arms around what happened at the Capitol and incorporated it into his campaign. Wednesday night was no exception.
“A beautiful day,” he said of January 6.
It was a reminder that embracing the deadly violence of the day – at least for Republicans – is no longer seen as a disqualification. In private, Mr Trump’s team said they were pleased with how he handled the extensive time spent in the post-election period during town halls.
GOP watchers stack the deck, but know where the base lies
The audience’s regular interruptions from Mr. Trump were like a laugh track on a sitcom. It created momentum for him in the room – and onscreen for television viewers – and bogged down Ms Collins as she repeatedly tried to interrupt him with facts and corrections.
It didn’t matter how rude, profane or politically incorrect Mr. Trump was, the Republican crowd in New Hampshire ate up the decades-old showman’s snickering.
He would pardon a “large proportion” of the 6 January rioters. Applause.
He mocked the detailed allegations of rape from E. Jean Carroll, as “hanky-panky in the dressing room” was made. laughter. It doesn’t matter that a New York jury this week found him liable for sexual assault and defamation, awarding Ms. Carroll $5 million in damages.
calling Ms. Carroll a “wacky job”. Applause and laughter.
Fluctuating on using the debt ceiling for leverage, because “I’m not the president.” More laughter.
Cheers reveals the current psyche of the Republican base, which is eager for confrontation: with the press, with the Democrats, with anyone standing in the way of Republicans coming to power.
It made for tough sledding for Ms. Collins, who was like an athlete playing an away game on hostile turf: She had to battle the crowd and the candidate at the same time.
“You’re a bad person,” Mr Trump told her at one point, echoing a line he used against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The town-hall format felt like a set piece for Mr. Trump to take advantage of to cast himself as both the Republican incumbent — “Mr. President,” he was repeatedly addressed — and the outsider, his two Recreating situations from previous campaigns.
Republicans rejoice, but Democrats look to general election
President Biden’s team switched TVs on Air Force One from CNN to MSNBC after President Biden returned from New York on Wednesday evening. But that didn’t mean his political team wasn’t watching the town hall anxiously, and Republicans cheering along with the onlookers.
Mr Trump defended January 6 as a “beautiful day”. He hailed the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a “great victory”. He would not say whether he expected Ukraine to win the war against Russia. He again talked about how the rich and famous get their way. “The ladies let you go,” he said. And he refused to re-implement one of the most incendiary and divisive policies of his tenure in office: the purposeful separation of families at the border.
Mr. Trump’s answers played well in the hall but could find their way into Democratic messaging all over the next 18 months.
Late Wednesday, the Biden campaign was already exploring which areas it could quickly turn to digital ads, given Mr. Trump’s positions close to swing voters won by Mr. Biden in 2020.
Shortly after the event ended, Mr. Biden issued a tweet, “Do you want four more years of that?” Read it. It was a request for donations. It is also a reminder of how much the Biden 2024 campaign is likely to be about Mr. Trump.
Trump avoided aggressively taking a stance on a federal abortion ban
Mr. Trump is perhaps the single Republican most responsible for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year. He appointed three justices of the court who governed the opinion of the majority. But he has privately blamed abortion politics for the Republican’s poor showing in the 2022 midterms and has treaded cautiously in the early months of his 2024 run.
Before the town hall, his team spent a lot of time answering a question they knew they would be asked: Would he support a federal ban, and in how many weeks?
His repeated dodges and euphemisms were hard to miss on Wednesday.
“Getting rid of Roe v. Wade was an incredible thing for pro-life to do,” he began.
That was as specific as it would get. He said he was “honored to have done what I’ve done” – a line Democrats quickly flagged as potential fodder for future ads – and that it was a “great victory”.
Mr. Trump’s Republican rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, getting Mr. Trump right on an issue that may resonate with evangelical voters. Mr. Trump didn’t even mention Mr. DeSantis until more than an hour into the event, and only after prodding from a voter. “I think they should relax and take it easy and think about the future,” Mr Trump urged.
Refusing to say whether he would sign a federal ban, Mr Trump tried to cast Democrats as hardliners and pledged he supported exemptions for rape, incest and the mother’s life. “What I will do is negotiate so that people are happy,” he said.
“I just want to give you one more chance,” Ms. Collins pressed on.
He dodged the last one. He said, “Make a deal that’s good.”
He deepens his legal woes with comments on probe
Mr Trump’s most heated exchange with Ms Collins was at her private club, Mar-a-Lago, after she left, over the special counsel investigation into the possession of hundreds of presidential records, including more than 300 personal classified documents . Office.
And this was the area in which he himself ran into the biggest problems.
“I was there and I took what I took and it goes unclassified,” said Mr. Trump, who has maintained, despite contradictions from his own former officials, that he had a standing order that automatically Declassified documents that had left the Oval Office. President’s residence.
“I had every right to do it, I didn’t make it a secret. You know, the box was standing outside the White House, people were taking pictures of it,” Mr Trump said, adding that people somehow knew that presidential material and classified documents were in them (they were not).
In what will be of great interest to special counsel, Jack Smith, Mr Trump certainly will not rule out whether he showed people classified material or not, with some investigators questioning witnesses in connection with maps containing particularly sensitive intelligence. Is.
“Not really,” he said, “I shall have a right to it.” At another point he declared, “I have a right to do whatever I want with them.”
He also defended himself for a call he had with the Georgia Secretary of State in which he said he was trying to “find” enough votes to win. “I didn’t ask them to find anything,” Mr Trump said.
There are few issues that concern the Trump team and the former president as much as the scrutiny of the documents, and Mr. Trump wore it on his face and in his own words on stage in New Hampshire.