It was 2016 all over again Wednesday night as former President Donald Trump took part in a raucous town hall filled with incendiary claims and jabs at the network.
Trump fielded questions from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Republican voters in Manchester, N.H., for more than an hour about his false claims surrounding the 2020 election, his myriad of legal troubles, abortion, the war in Ukraine, immigration and the economy. It was Trump’s first appearance on the network since 2016.
While Trump’s advisers explained that the former president was returning to the network he routinely lambasts as “fake news” to reach a wider audience, the former president largely offered up the same type of pugilistic politics that defined his 2016 campaign and his four years in the White House.
“That was a rigged election,” Trump said just minutes into the town hall of his 2020 election loss.
Asked if he had any regrets about his conduct around Jan. 6, 2021, when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol to halt the certification of President Biden’s victory, Trump defended those who came to Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never spoken to a crowd as large as this,” Trump said. “That was because they thought the election was rigged. And they were there proud. They were there with love in their heart. That was an unbelievable and it was a beautiful day.”
At one point, he removed notes from his jacket pocket and read out loud tweets he sent that day where he held back on calling the crowd off.
Collins routinely interjected to note that the election was not rigged, that Trump’s own former officials testified as much, and that numerous lawsuits alleging fraud were dismissed by the courts.
When Collins pressed Trump on whether he would accept the 2024 election outcome, he couched his answer to say he would only do so if he felt the results were “honest.”
Trump, who fact-checkers found told thousands of lies throughout his presidency, repeatedly offered up inaccurate or misleading talking points. In one instance, he claimed that residents of the Chinatown neighborhood in Washington, D.C., did not speak English as part of an allegation that Biden stored boxes there after his vice presidency because he had nefarious ties to Beijing.
Collins sought to chime in throughout the night to pushback on some of Trump’s false claims and press him when he danced around questions but he frequently spoke over her.
Trump repeatedly declined to say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban if reelected, instead calling the end of Roe v. Wade a “great victory” and saying he would find “a solution that’s going to work.”
Collins at one point asked Trump twice whether he wanted Ukraine to win its war against Russia after Moscow launched an invasion in February 2022, and the former president demurred.
“I don’t think in terms of winning and losing. I think in terms of getting it settled so we stop killing all of these people,” Trump said.
Asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, Trump said the issue “should be discussed later.”
Over the course of the town hall, Trump grew irritated with Collins’ repeated interjections seeking answers and clarifying facts.
As Collins pushed Trump on why he held onto classified materials after leaving the White House when he knew the federal government was seeking them, Trump finally snapped.
“You’re a nasty person, I’ll tell you,” Trump said to cheers from those in attendance.
The crowd in Manchester was made up of Republican voters and was largely favorable for Trump. Attendees cheered the former president throughout the night, including when he pulled from his jacket pocket a printout of tweets he sent on Jan. 6 urging his supporters to stand down.
The audience also laughed as Trump mockingly recounted writer E. Jean Carroll’s allegation that he raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s. A nine-person jury this week found Trump liable of sexual abuse and defamation in the case.
“I have no idea who the hell she is. She’s a whack job,” Trump said.
Asked if he thought the jury’s findings would keep women from voting from him, Trump said he did not believe it would.
Trump’s reception from the crowd underscored his team’s belief that he is the prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination in 2024, and polls have consistently shown him with a sizable lead over would-be challengers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
His campaign took a victory lap after the town hall, declaring Trump “is the only one who can stop the forces from destroying our country—anyone else will be ripped to shreds.”
But his attacks on Collins and the woman who accused him of rape, as well as his unwillingness to rule out a federal abortion ban and his repeated falsehoods about the 2020 election were reflective of why President Biden and Democrats believe they can defeat Trump once again in 2024.
“It’s simple, folks. Do you want four more years of that?” Biden posted on his personal Twitter account at the conclusion of the town hall. “If you don’t, pitch in to our campaign.”
Even some Republicans argued the town hall was proof it was time for the party to move on from Trump.
Erin Perrine, a spokesperson for the pro-DeSantis group Never Back Down, said the event showed “Trump is stuck in the past.”
“After 76 years, Trump still doesn’t know where he stands on important conservative issues like supporting life and the 2nd amendment,” Perrine said in a statement. “How does that Make America Great Again?”