Republican lawmakers praised former President Donald Trump at several points during a CNN townhall interview on Wednesday night, including his responses to questions about the 2020 election and the war in Ukraine.
Trump currently leads the majority of polls for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and has garnered endorsements from dozens of current and former Republican lawmakers. Much of the praise for Trump’s CNN appearance was from those Republicans who have already endorsed him.
“I’ve got your back, Mr. President. We need President Trump back in the White House. Enough is enough,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter after the CNN appearance.
Donalds had already endorsed Trump prior to the town hall event.
Several Republicans pointed to Trump’s decision to accept the invite from CNN despite his past adversarial relationship with the network.
After never Trumper and Lincoln Project founder Rick Wilson shared a video lambasting CNN for giving Trump a platform, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) wrote on Twitter, “If you have any doubt whether Trump made a good decision to go on CNN – please watch Rick’s reaction video.”
Gaetz had also endorsed Trump prior to the CNN town hall.
2020 Election and Jan. 6
CNN moderator Kaitlin Collins opened the town hall appearance by challenging Trump on whether he believes the 2020 election results were legitimate. Trump, who has consistently disputed the legitimacy of the 2020 election results, did not back down from that stance on Wednesday night.
“It’s been nearly two and a half years. Can you publicly acknowledge that you did lose the 2020 election?” Collins asked during one exchange.
“They found millions of votes on camera, on government cameras, where they were stuffing ballot boxes,” Trump replied. “So with all of that, 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.”
During another point in the discussion over the 2020 election results, the former president said, “Look, we have to have honest elections in our country … Let’s just win it again and straighten out our country.”
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has been a vocal supporter of Trump and has endorsed him in the 2024 contest, praised Trump’s positions on the 2020 election.
“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,” Greene wrote.
The town hall discussion on the 2020 election eventually turned to the topic of the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump repeated his assertion that he had proposed activating 10,000 National Guard troops in Washington D.C. that day to provide additional security in the city, but that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined the proposal.
Donalds backed Trump’s assertion about the National Guard troops deployment request during a CNN panel following the Wednesday town hall interview.
“I was on two hearings on [the Jan. 6 Capitol Breach], it was testified to in [the House Oversight Committee] that Donald Trump authorized National Guard troops on Jan. 4, he followed up in a call with [then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller] on Jan. 5, trying to see where the deployment was on those troops,” Donalds said. “That is testimony in the Oversight Committee.”
Former Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 capitol breach, disputed Trump’s claims to have requested 10,000 National Guard troops to provide additional security that day. Cheney posted on Twitter an audio clip in which Miller was asked about this National Guard call-up and denied receiving any specific order from the president.
According to a November 2021 report by the inspector general for the Department of Defense, Trump did tell Miller on Jan. 3, 2021, that “there would be a large number of protestors on January 6, 2021, and Mr. Miller should ensure sufficient National Guard or Soldiers would be there to make sure it was a safe event.” According to the report, Miller responded, “We’ve got a plan and we’ve got it covered.”
At one point during the interview, Collins asked Trump whether he wants Ukraine to win the ongoing war with Russia, not specifying what a win for Ukraine would look like. 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.
“Can you say if you want Ukraine or Russia to win this war?” Collins asked again moments later.
Trump again said, “I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying.”
During the interview, Trump also reiterated an earlier claim that he would end the war in Ukraine within 24 hours of negotiations as president.
Reacting to those comments, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) wrote on Twitter, “This is real statesmanship.”
The response also earned praise from Greene, who wrote, “Exactly! President Trump is the only man for the job. #AmericaFirst.”
In contrast with Greene, former Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger condemned Trump’s response to questions of support for Ukraine.
“For trump not to say he wants Ukraine to win is insane,” Kinzinger wrote on Twitter. Kinzinger also voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 capitol breach and served together with Cheney on the Jan. 6 Select Committee.
Other 2024 GOP Candidates React
Conservative talk show host Larry Elder, who announced his own run for the 2024 Republican nomination, shared several tweets reacting to the CNN town hall, at times taking jabs at the network and pointing criticism toward Democrats, but largely avoiding his Republican primary opponent.
In an apparent reference to the portions of the town hall focused on Trump’s 2020 election claims, Elder wrote, “[Former Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton calls 2016 ‘stolen’ and Trump ‘illegitimate.’ [Democratic perennial candidate Stacy Abrams] blames her 2018 loss on ‘election interference.’ [Democratic former presidential candidate Al Gore] says he lost in 2000 because votes were not ‘counted properly.’ Crooked media NEVER EVER calls these losers… ‘ELECTION DENIERS’! #TrumpTownHall.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, another candidate running for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, shared a Twitter comment suggesting CNN should host Ramaswamy for his own town hall event. Ramaswamy replied, “I’m in. @CNN.”