CNN’s on-air personalities are defending the network’s decision to host a town hall-style interview with former President Donald Trump on Wednesday night.
While many Republicans and conservatives cheered on Trump’s performance on the stage, numerous Democrat politicians criticized the cable news network for giving him such a platform. For instance, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) posted that “CNN should be ashamed of themselves” and accused the network of “platforming election disinformation, defenses of Jan 6th, and a public attack on a sexual abuse victim.”
CNN host Anderson Cooper addressed several of the criticisms in the opening monologue of his show on Thursday night. Cooper began his monologue by validating many of the criticisms the network had faced and characterizing elements of Trump’s performance as “ridiculous” and “disturbing.
“Many of you are upset that someone who attempted to destroy our democracy was invited to sit on the stage in front of a crowd of Republican voters to answer questions and predictably continued to spew lie after lie after lie. And I get it. It was disturbing,” Cooper said.
Cooper went on to criticize Trump for a number of comments he made during the town hall, including describing the officer who claimed responsibility for fatally shooting an unarmed demonstrator on Jan. 6, 2021, as “a thug” during Wednesday’s town hall event. Cooper also criticized Trump for calling moderator Kaitlan Collins “a nasty person” after she repeatedly spoke over him as he described his handling of classified documents. Cooper said viewers may have also been upset to see the live audience members at the town hall event cheering Trump on through several contentious moments in the interview.
In spite of these criticisms of Trump, Cooper presented the town hall as a valuable moment for understanding Trump’s position as a 2024 presidential candidate and the people who agree with him.
“Many of you think CNN shouldn’t have given him any platform to speak, and I understand the anger about that, giving him the audience, the time. I get that,” Cooper said. “But this is what I also get: The man you were so disturbed to see and hear from last night, that man is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president.”
Cooper then warned critics that their disdain for CNN hosting the town hall event won’t make Trump go away.
“You have every right to be outraged today and angry and never watch this network again. But do you think staying in your silo and only listening to people you agree with is going to make that person go away?” Cooper said. “If we all only listen to those we agree with, it may actually do the opposite. If lies are allowed to go unchecked, as imperfect as our ability to check them is on a stage in real-time, those lies continue and those lies spread. If you’re angry or upset, I understand, but you have the power to do something about it. You can actually get involved. You can make a difference.”
In a primetime appearance on Thursday night, Collins presented the CNN town hall in similar terms as Cooper, describing the event as a “major inflection point in the Republican party’s search for its next nominee.”
“It’s important to remember that [Trump] is, right now, the GOP frontrunner, a race that he is running, as noted, while being criminally indicted, found civilly liable and under investigation for everything from his handling of classified documents to his business empire,” Collins alleged.
Some Lawmakers See Town Hall as Problem for Trump
Many of Trump’s most ardent Republican supporters cheered the comments he made and the positions he took during the town hall.
When asked whether he would support Ukraine and whether he wants to see it win in its fight against Russia, Trump responded that he isn’t thinking in terms of a “winning” or “losing” side, but rather in terms of reaching a peaceful settlement that ends the fighting.
Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who had endorsed Trump prior to the town hall appearance, said Trump’s calls for a peaceful settlement to the Russia-Ukraine war showed “real statesmanship.”
During the debate, Collins repeatedly pushed Trump to say he lost the 2020 election, disavow his claims it was stolen or rigged, and promise to accept the results of the 2024 election, no matter the result. Trump instead stood by his 2020 election claims and said he would accept the 2024 election results “If I think it’s an honest election.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), another ardent Trump supporter who has endorsed his 2024 bid, cheered Trump for holding his ground on the 2020 election claims.
“I enjoyed congratulating President Trump on his outstanding town hall and undefeated record against CNN. They had to air him telling the truth about how the 2020 election was rigged and stolen. We laughed and laughed,” she posted after the town hall ended.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) saw the very same views some Republicans cheered as a liability for Trump going forward and a boon for President Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection bid.
“CNN did @JoeBiden a favor,” Lieu posted on Thursday morning. “CNN picked an audience of GOP primary voters, including MAGA folks. This egged on Trump to make incredibly damaging statements for the general election. Any non-MAGA American watching was reminded, again, that Trump is a monster.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told CNN that Trump’s town hall performance appealed to his base but likely won’t help grow his support.
“I don’t think he showed anything differently than he’s shown people before,” Cornyn told CNN. “He’s got a unique ability to rally his base, but not to grow beyond his base, which is a problem.”
Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) also criticized Trump’s comments on Ukraine, telling CNN, “President Trump’s judgment is wrong in this case.”
“That’s why I don’t intend to support him for the Republican nomination,” Young added.