On Wednesday night, CNN hosted former President Donald Trump in a town hall event with moderator Kaitlan Collins and a group of New Hampshire independent voters. Regardless of whether you love Trump, like him, hate him, or are indifferent, you got exactly what you expected. The reactions on social media ranged from “Trump is doing terrible,” to “Trump is knocking it out of the park,” which probably means it was somewhere in between.
But, the town hall did prove what Trump’s biggest weaknesses are.
The first, of course, is the 2020 election. Collins wasted no time in confronting Trump over his refusal to accept the outcome of the election. Collins seized the opportunity to highlight Trump’s ongoing federal investigation for his alleged attempts to “overturn” the 2020 election results, and Trump answered it just the way you would expect him to. He doubled down on his longstanding claims, and while he arguably made some valid points, he still holds onto the belief that Mike Pence could have stopped the certification of the results.
Look, there were a lot of problems with the 2020 election, but I have long held the belief that Trump needs to approach the issue of election integrity with a broader perspective. Let’s not forget, Democrats haven’t accepted the results of elections they’ve lost in 23 years, and the concept of election integrity resonates with the Republican Party and has the potential to be a winning issue.
The American people endorse sensible laws that safeguard our elections. However, Trump needs to transcend personal grievances regarding the 2020 election. Undeniably, there were instances of election irregularities, fraud, and questionable changes to election laws in critical battleground states, giving ample reason to scrutinize the results. Nonetheless, even if one believes Trump is the rightful victor of the 2020 election, conclusive proof may forever elude us. So, instead of making the 2020 election the issue, Trump has to make it less about him and more about a commonsense election integrity agenda that helps Americans on the left and right feel confident that our elections are fair. Trump seems incapable of doing that right now, and that’s a problem.
The second issue that hurts Trump is the Capitol riot. Though in fairness, when it came up, it was actually a great moment for him.
“When they went to the Capitol, and they were breaking into the Capitol smashing windows, injuring police officers, why did you — why did it take you three hours to tell them to go home?” Collins asked, repeating a bogus liberal media talking point.
“I don’t believe I did,” Trump said, then he reached it his suit coat pocket. “Let me pull it out, I have to pull it out,” he said, producing some sheets of paper. The audience laughed and cheered. He read off two tweets disproving Collin’s false claim. The first was a tweet calling on his supporters to support the Capitol Police and law enforcement and to say peaceful.
The second was a tweet again calling on everyone to remain peaceful. “I am asking for everyone at the U.S. Capitol to remain peaceful. No violence! Remember, WE are the Party of Law & Order – respect the Law and our great men and women in Blue. Thank you!”
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I don’t doubt Collins was less than pleased when Trump showed her the receipts. But even though the moment worked out for Trump, the unfortunate reality — the reason he was ready for the question and had the screenshots handy — is that he knew it would be asked. What does that tell us? It tells us that Trump running for president means that no matter what, the issues of the 2020 election and January 6 can’t be avoided. Whether it’s in the primary or the general election, Trump makes January 6 an issue.
Both these issues prove that the biggest issue Trump has to overcome is that his candidacy makes it difficult to focus on a vision for the future. The Republican Party won’t win in 2024 re-litigating the 2020 election or the Capitol riot. As PJM’s Paula Bolyard previously noted, following the town hall, seven out of eight individuals in a CNN focus group, all of whom were Trump voters or supporters, expressed their desire for Trump to shift his focus away from the events of 2020. He has time to figure that out, but will he?