I did not watch the CNN town hall with the XPOTUS on Wednesday night. I do feel bad for the journalists who had to, starting with the Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler:
For more than an hour, former president Donald Trump sent forth a torrent of false and misleading claims during a CNN town hall. Here’s a roundup of some of the more notable ones, arranged by subject matter.
“I took in hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes from China.”
Through the end of his presidency, Trump-imposed tariffs garnered about $75 billion on products from China. But tariffs — essentially a tax — are generally paid by importers, such as U.S. companies, who in turn pass on most or all of the costs to consumers or producers who use Chinese materials in their products. So, ultimately, Americans footed the bill for Trump’s tariffs, not the Chinese. Moreover, the China tariff revenue was reduced by $28 billion in payments the government made to farmers who lost business because China stopped buying U.S. soybeans, hogs, cotton and other products in response.
“I had every right to under the Presidential Records Act. You have the Presidential Records Act. I was there and I took what I took and it gets declassified … it says you talk, you negotiate, you make a deal. It’s not criminal, by the way.”
As Collins noted, this is not what the PRA says. Under the PRA, a president has a lot of leeway to deem something a presidential paper while he is president. But the possibility of such give-and-take ended when the clock struck noon on Jan. 20, 2021. “Upon the conclusion of a President’s term of office, or if a President serves consecutive terms upon the conclusion of the last term, the Archivist of the United States shall assume responsibility for the custody, control, and preservation of, and access to, the Presidential records of that President,” the law says.
Pages and pages of this follow. That poor reporter. Tom Nichols sees a silver lining:
Watching Trump for any extended period of time is enervating and deeply uncomfortable. The man is a quivering bag of weird verbal and physical tics. And when he gets rolling, listening to a Trump speech is like standing nearby while someone throws a match into a box of cheap bottle rockets: When the fusillade of annoying noise, misfires, duds, and smoke is over, all that’s left is a general stink in the air.
This discomfort is exactly my point: If you want to stop Donald Trump from returning to power, putting him on TV is the way to go. But doing so requires either that you hand him a microphone and let him immolate himself, or that you sit him down with a reporter who will not let up on calling out his lies and fantasies until he melts down.
Last night, however, CNN chose one of the worst possible options. Instead of a candidate interview, CNN Chairman Chris Licht apparently thought it would be a great idea to cast Trump in a remake of The Jerry Springer Show, complete with vulgar jokes, hooting fans, and a mild-mannered host—in this case, the CNN correspondent Kaitlan Collins—stuck with the thankless of job of trying to intervene in the shouting and angry finger-pointing. Instead of an important one-on-one interview with a dangerous and malevolent demagogue, CNN presented another episode of Trump’s ongoing reality show.
The Economist's Lexington agrees:
And so american politics came to this: the day after a jury concluded in a civil case that Donald Trump had committed sexual abuse and then defamed his victim, he preened on national television as the front-runner for the presidential nomination of the party of family values and law and order, of American greatness and American pride. Mr Trump’s gall should not surprise anyone, of course, not after his success for seven years in defining Republican values down. Yet what a degrading spectacle it was.
But, unfiltered by his aides, Mr Trump damaged himself in the town hall for purposes of a general-election campaign. Mr Biden was fundraising off the event as it ended (“Do you want four more years of that?” he asked on Twitter) and within half an hour his team released an ad interleaving Mr Trump’s musings about the beauty of January 6th with images of violence that day. Should Mr Trump win the nomination, his boasts about overturning abortion rights would haunt him, along with many other remarks, some of which may also enhance his growing legal jeopardy.
The Times expands on that last point:
Mr. Trump described for Ms. Collins how he had apparently taken materials from the White House not only on purpose, but in plain view of the public.
“When we left Washington, we had the boxes lined up on the sidewalk outside for everybody,” he said. “People are taking pictures of them. Everybody knew we were taking those boxes.”
Mr. Trump’s attempts to play down or explain away his handling of the documents came at a moment when Mr. Smith’s office was increasingly homing in on the key question of whether the former president sought to hide some of the documents in his possession after the Justice Department issued a subpoena last May demanding their return.
Finally, James Fallows indicts CNN for its complicity in this nonsense:
—The least cynical explanation for why CNN offered Trump this opportunity is that they are trying to ingratiate themselves with Trump and his GOP. Perhaps a “re-centered” CNN could occupy the space opened by chaos at Fox?
—The more cynical explanation is that for CNN’s leadership the difference between spectacle and news was meaningless. A live Trump show would draw an audience and make headlines. Which is part of the defense its new CEO, Chris Licht, reportedly offered on a staff call today.
Fallows includes a bit from his 2016 interview with primatologist Jane Goodall, which really sums up the CNN town hall and, in fact, anything that the XPOTUS does in public:
“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”
In her book My Life With the Chimpanzees, Goodall told the story of “Mike,” a chimp who maintained his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he moved down a road, creating confusion and noise that made his rivals flee and cower. She told me she would be thinking of Mike as she watched the upcoming debates [between Trump and Hillary Clinton].
Yes. The XPOTUS has normalized chimpanzee behaviors in American politics.
So, who else is excited for the 2024 election?