Cable carnage: Trump turns CNN town hall into televised combat

The former president’s town hall at CNN began with more 2020 denialism and went on from there.

Former President Donald Trump refused to say he had lost the 2020 presidential election and defended his actions on Jan. 6 during a town hall event in New Hampshire on Wednesday night.

In what became an hour-long form of television combat on a variety of issues, Trump received routine applause from the Republican and Republican-leaning crowd, including over his dismissal of a recent verdict that found him guilty of sexual assault. He did not flinch when asked by the moderator, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, if he owed his one-time VP Mike Pence an apology for the riot he helped incite while Pence was at the capitol.

He later said he was inclined to pardon a “large portion” of the Jan. 6 rioters.

Below are some of the major moments from the evening.

Still denying the election

In the opening questioning of the town hall, Collins said Republican election officials disputed Trump’s claims about the election. He sidestepped the pushback, questioning which officials had said as much. Numerous officials, studies and reviews have confirmed that Trump lost the election.

“I think it’s a shame what happened. I think it’s a very sad thing for our country. I think it’s a very sad thing frankly for the world, because if you look at what’s gotten to our country, our country has gone to hell,” Trump said.

In a follow up question, an audience member asked if Trump would “suspend polarizing talk of election fraud” during the 2024 presidential election.

Trump responded by saying, “yes, unless I see election fraud.”

Leaning on Jan. 6

The Jan. 6 insurrection was a “beautiful day,” Trump declared.

Pressed about the matter, he added: “I’ve never spoken to a crowd as large as this, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud. They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable and it was a beautiful day,”

Trump said he did not have any regrets about the riot that left five dead and halted the proceedings to confirm the election of Joe Biden. He expressed empathy for Ashli Babbitt, who was at the riot and was fatally shot that day. He called the police officer who shot her a “thug.”

“She was killed and she shouldn’t have been killed,” he said. “And that thug that killed her, there was no reason to shoot her at blank range, cold blank range they shot her, and she was a good person. She was a patriot. There was no reason.”

Trump responds to E. Jean Carroll

Trump dismissed claims made by former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll that she was sexually assaulted by him in the dressing room of the luxury Manhattan department store Bergdorf Goodman years ago.

Trump claimed he did not know Carroll. And when asked if the case disqualified him from being president, he responded that his polling numbers “went up.”

The CNN town hall comes just one day after a federal jury in Manhattan found Trump liable for sexual battery and defamation and awarded Carroll $5 million in damages. Trump was not found liable for rape. Trump’s attorney said they planned to appeal.

Trump went on to joke about Carroll’s claims and called it a “fake story.”

And while he was at it

Trump also defended his most infamous comments, made in an Access Hollywood videotape uncovered just before the 2016 election, that when you’re a star women “let you do” anything, including “grab ‘em by the p—.”

“I can take it back if you’d like to, but if you’re a famous person, if you’re a star — and I’m not referring to myself, I’m saying people that are famous, people that are stars, people that are rich, people that are powerful, they tend to do pretty well in a lot of different ways, okay?” Trump said. “I can’t take it back because it happens to be true. I’ve said it’s been true for 1 million years, approximately 1 million years, maybe a little longer than that.”

A debt ceiling reversal

Trump said congressional Republicans should be open to the idea of the government defaulting as an outcome of the current debt ceiling fight.

“We might as well do it now because you’ll do it later because we have to save this country. our country is dying,” he said.

When Collins noted that Trump had said that as president it was wrong for Democrats to use the prospect of default as a negotiating tactic, he responded that he had said that “when I was president.”

“So why is it different now?” Collins asked. “Because I’m not president,” Trump shot back.

A nuance on abortion

Trump was asked by a female audience member how he plans to appeal to women who are concerned about abortion in the aftermath of the 2022 Jackson v. Dobbs Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and gave states the power to regulate abortion.

Trump, who has not been entirely clear on his abortion position beyond saying that he is a pro-life champion and would only support laws that allow for exceptions, called the Dobbs decision “a great victory.”

“Getting rid of Roe V. Wade was an incredible thing for pro-life because it gave pro-life something to negotiate with,” Trump said. “I happen to believe in the exceptions, the life of the mother, rape, incest like Ronald Reagan believed in the exceptions.”

Trump would not say if he would sign a federal abortion ban, like the 15-week bill that has been proposed by his ally in Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.). As Collins introduced the first commercial break, Trump could be heard saying over the microphone, “I’ll make the right decision.”

Ahead of the town hall, Trump met with a top anti-abortion activist Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, at Mar-a-Lago along with Graham and Tony Perkins, a Trump ally and the head of Family Research Council. The group discussed federal abortion legislation at the meeting, and according to Dannenfelser, Trump reiterated that any federal abortion legislation must require exceptions.

Keeping neutral on Ukraine

Trump declined to answer repeated questions from Collins about who he believes should win the war in Ukraine.

“Do you want Ukraine to win this war?” Collins asked.

“I don’t think in terms of winning and losing. I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing all these people,” Trump replied. “I want everybody to stop dying,” he added.

The former president also claimed that he could end the war within 24 hours if elected, though he did not go into detail about how he would negotiate peace between the warring nations.

A cherry on top

One of the most testy exchanges between Trump and Collins came when she pressed him on the federal investigation into documents from the White House that were found at his Mar-a-Lago club. After Collins pushed back at his repeated assertions that Biden had taken more documents than he had, he went back at her.

“You are a nasty person, I’ll tell you,” Trump remarked.