expresidente donald trumpoffered America a return to past national turmoil and a possible future of even greater dramaCNN Town HallOn Wednesday.
Republicans, and perhaps ultimately the entire country, must decide if they want to go through all of this again.
Former Commander in Chief andRepublican primary leaderhe showed in New Hampshire exactly why his Republican fans flock to his bravery and refusal to bow to presidential codes of decorum, and why he's had the Republican Party in his clutches for years.
But in flurries of election denial, unbridled anger, misogynistic comments about the sexual assault case and a refusal to admit that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, he has also shown why many in the REP fear he could alienate them as far as possible. enough again. voters to hand over the White House to the Democrats in 2024.
and he gavePresident Joe Bidenan even wider opening to the argument that the country cannot afford a second Trump presidency.
“I have the absolute right to do what I want with them,” Trump said of the classified documents he collected at his Florida facility when he left office, though he could also be referring to his broader belief that they should have no limits. the power of him if he wins another term.
But while his demagogy is repulsive to many, the reality of Trump's strong lead in the early primaries is that millions of Republican voters don't view this even more distorted version of the most destructive president in American history as derogatory.
Trump voters at town hall rate his performance
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That is exactly what they want and why they love it. And if he ends up being the Republican nominee for the third term in a row, he has a chance to become the next president.
“I like Trump and what he stood for, and now I like him even more,” said Joan Rushton, a former Democratic voter who was in the audience. "It's a fight".
Trump is trying to come back like no one has before. He's not just trying to become the second president to win another term. He is trying to recover from a double indictment and an attempt to smear American democracy after losing his first re-election bid. He came to light a day after a New York jury found that he had sexually assaulted a woman in the 1990s and found him liable for defamation. He was recently charged in an undercover money investigation and pleaded not guilty. And the prospect of facing more criminal charges for attacks on democracy and hoarding classified documents means he is putting pressure on the country's legal institutions in a way unprecedented for a presidential candidate.
The town hall was actually the first time, at least out of court or under oath, that Trump has been personally held publicly accountable for lying about the 2020 election and the role he played in inciting a mob attack on Congress by of his supporters. But still he refused to accept that he lost the last presidential election, despite several courts rejecting his challenges and his own government's assurances that there was no widespread fraud.
Clinton, abortion, border wall: CNN scrutinizes Donald Trump after town hall
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And Trump announced an even more shameful stance on America's democratic values when he said he was willing tosorry "large percentage" of rioterswho on January 6, 2021 stormed the Capitol and beat up police officers.
The real start of the 2024 campaign
The tension and excitement that hung over bucolic Saint Anselm College as audiences of Republicans and undeclared voters lined up to shout against Trump made it clear that this was the real start of the 2024 presidential race.
Ahead of the event, the Trump campaign noted that he was addressing not only hardline "Make America Great Again" voters, but also other Republicans and even more moderate voters who have been put off by his behavior at the event. past but that they might give it another chance. Look.
While Trump's relentless refusal to concede a point and insistence on his own often false version of events is popular with his fans, it's hard to see how his appearance on Wednesday helped him broaden his base of support. His attempt to raise the issue of abortion may have caused even more headaches for the Republican Party, which is already reeling from the electoral fallout from the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. Trump wanted credit for that decision, which marked 50 years of the conservative campaign. But his tentative responses to the question of exactly what his policy would be in office and whether he would sign a total ban on the process if approved by a Republican Congress showed that he knew he was in a political bind.
"I'm honored to have done what I did," Trump said, referring to the appointment of conservative judges who struck down the constitutional right to abortion. The comment will endear him to pro-life voters and social conservatives alike, and help ease some anxiety about his wild personality.
"I think the greatest injustice in our country right now is the termination of an unborn life," Jason Hennessey, president of New Hampshire Right to Life, said after leaving City Hall. "If he can save the children...I think that's more important than anything else."
But Democrats are already seizing on the same comment from Trump, arguing that an unpopular Supreme Court decision hurt Republicans in last year's midterm elections and could help Biden secure a second term in 2024.
And Trump's severe deficit among female voters, which he lost from 57% to 42% in 2020, was hardly helped by his sexist portrayals of a former magazine columnist.E.Jeana Carrolla, a plaintiff in a civil defamation and assault case in New York, as a "crazy job." And his insulting at CNN moderator Caitlan Collins, who respectfully but constantly censured him in real time as a "bad person," was another example of his long history of tormenting professional women who oppose him.
Trump has not changed, he is more himself
One of the most notable, though perhaps not surprising, aspects of Trump's performance was that after everything that happened in 2020, there was no self-reflection or change in his anti-democratic instincts or his insistence on any evidence that the election was "rigged." . " . "
Tapper: Trump's first lie was just seconds into the night
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More broadly, the former president has once again shown that he stands apart from nearly all of his predecessors because he rejects traditional notions of American democracy, world leadership and a sense that the presidency is more important than anyone carrying its responsibilities.
For example, he refused to label Putin a "war criminal," despite evidence of atrocities committed during his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court. For Trump, the most important thing that has emerged from the conflict is that the US has sent more aid to Kiev to defend democracy than to the European Union, which he has repeatedly accused of "robbing" the US. in his first term.
Meanwhile, he incorrectly claimed that the Presidential Records Act meant he could simply take classified documents home after leaving office and that they were immediately declassified. By the way, several of his responses to the ongoing legal investigation may have caused another headache for his lawyers. But they reinforced the view that Trump believes there are no legal or behavioral constraints on power now and potentially in the future that will limit it.
For many Americans, such an attitude is directly at odds with the values of a nation built against tyranny and in the name of the rule of law. But still, many Republican voters find the message appealing and see it as a sign of a leader who wants to stand up to what they see as a corrupt liberal establishment overrun by radical leftist ideology.
While many of Trump's opponents believe his presidency, marked by endless scandals, chaos and challenges to limit his power, has been a disaster, many Republicans at Wednesday's hearing saw his era as one of prosperity and success.
“The great thing about Trump is that he will bring the best minds in the world together in one room to get the best consensus,” Andrew Georgewitz, chairman of the Republican City Committee in Concord, New Hampshire, said as he left City Hall. "He brings people together for the best results and he really cares about America."
But several Republican voters present Wednesday said they wished Trump had been more disciplined. This is part of the paradox of his charm: his wild nature both attracts and repels his admirers.
Al Peele came to town hall hoping to ask Trump about his own ideas for helping homeless veterans. However, he wanted the former president to tone down his behavior.
"If he could keep his Twitter feed and all his fingers off the keyboard, he'd be a lot more popular," Peel said. “I think it's Bozo the Clown, okay. But I like your results.
But while many Republicans believe Trump's performance makes their anger tolerable, the Biden camp believes his predecessor's misbehavior on Wednesday and his obsession with voter denial will once again alienate most voters.
"It was pretty effective. A week of fucking content in an hour," said CNN consultant Arlette Sáenz, pointing to a digital and television advertising goldmine to come.
Some critics of CNN's decision to hold a public meeting with Trump complained that the event was simply a platform for his lies and misinformation. For example, New York State Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took this position in a series of tweets.
But eight years into Trump's often extreme control of American politics, it is clear that his popularity is not simply based on a riotous personality who seems primarily concerned with his claims and agendas. He speaks to something deep in the hearts of millions of citizens and thus represents the intertwining of national character and attitudes towards democracy.
He is also leading the Republican presidential race. And given the reluctance of his outspoken -- and as yet unannounced -- Republican opponents to criticize him, nothing that happened Wednesday night seemed to change that.
Trump just won't go away.