Donald Trump remains Donald Trump
His 70-minute performance in New Hampshire was a stark reminder that the ex-president has one speed and that his second show mirrors his debut. As always, he is a celebrity performer and remains, even after leaving office, the center of gravity of American politics.
CNN's decision of giving him a prime-time unfiltered platform was reminiscent of the 2016 presidential campaign. Even though the moderator Kaitlan Collins repeatedly interjected in an attempt to stop him or correct him.
Mr. Trump spent so much time defending and discussing himself, he barely mentioned President Biden's history -- something that people close to him want Mr. Trump to emphasize. He was more disciplined with his expected primary opponent.
Takeaway: Here are 5 key points.
Trump will not let go of his lies regarding 2020 or January 6
The viewers expected Mr. Trump, who falsely claimed that the 2020 elections were stolen from him, to have moved past his falsehood. He showed, once again, at the very beginning, that he has not.
Collins' first question was about Trump's refusal of accepting his loss in 2020 and his false allegations of fraud.
Trump called the election he won 'rigged'.
Later, Mr. Trump said he would be 'inclined to' pardon'many of' the rioters who were arrested after the attack by a pro Trump mob on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020 during the certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory. People close to him were pleased that he avoided making a clear promise.
A person with knowledge of the plan said that he also brought a list with his tweets and statements that were made that day. This was an idea of his. When Ms. Collins asked him what he did during the violent hours, he lied. He also said that he didn't owe an apology to Vice President Mike Pence whose life had been threatened by the mob.
Trump is increasingly embracing what happened at the Capitol. He has incorporated this into his campaign as time goes on. Wednesday night was not an exception.
He said, 'A wonderful day' on Jan. 6th.
The event served as a reminder that, at least among Republicans, embracing the violent violence of that particular day is no longer considered disqualifying. In private, the team of Mr. Trump said that they were pleased with the way he spent the time on the post-election period in the town hall.
The G.O.P. The G.O.P.
The regular interruptions by the audience on Mr. Trump's behalf were like a comedy soundtrack. This gave him momentum in the room and for the TV audience, and it stifled Collins' attempts to correct him and provide facts.
The Republican crowd in New Hampshire ate up Mr. Trump's shtick, no matter how vulgar, profane, or politically incorrect it was.
He will pardon "a large portion" of the rioters from Jan. 6. Applause.
It doesn't matter that this week a New York court found him responsible for sexual abuse and defamation, awarding $5 million to Ms. Carroll in damages.
Calling Ms. Carroll "a wack job" Applause, laughter.
Because 'I am not president', I flip-flop on the use of leverage to raise debt ceilings. There will be more laughter.
The cheers showed the current mentality of the Republican base which is ready for confrontation with anyone who stands in their way, whether it be the media, Democrats or anyone else.
The crowd was hostile and Ms. Collins had to fight both the crowd as well as the candidate.
At one point Mr. Trump told her, 'You are a bad person', echoing his words against Hillary Clinton back in 2016.
The format of the town-hall felt like an elaborate set for Mr. Trump, which he used to portray himself as the Republican putative incumbent -- he was addressed repeatedly as 'Mister President' -- as well as the outsider, recreating the conditions of his two previous elections.
Democrats also cheered as they looked to the General Election
As President Biden returned to New York from New York, his team changed the TVs in Air Force One. They switched from CNN over to MSNBC. The team of President Biden was watching the townhall with enthusiasm, cheering along the Republican audience.
Mr. Trump described Jan. 6th as a "beautiful" day. He called the Roe v. Wade decision a "great victory." He refused to say whether he thought Ukraine would win its war with Russia. He spoke again about the way that the rich and famous are able to get what they want. He said, 'Women will let you'. He refused to rule it out that he would reimpose one of the most divisive and incendiary policies of his tenure in office, namely the deliberate separation of families at the border.
The answers of Mr. Trump were well received in the hall, but they could be incorporated into Democratic messaging over the next 18-months.
The Biden campaign began preparing for digital ads as early as late Wednesday. They were observing Mr. Trump taking positions that could turn off swing voters, which Mr. Biden had won in 2020.
Biden tweeted shortly after the event concluded. Do you want to continue with this for four more years? It read. It was an appeal for donations. The message was a reminder of how much the Biden 2020 campaign will likely be focused on Mr. Trump.
Trump avoided taking a position on a federal ban on abortion
Mr. Trump was perhaps the Republican who had the most influence on the Supreme Court decision last year to overturn Roe V. Wade. He appointed the three justices of the Supreme Court who authored the majority opinion. He has blamed the abortion politics in private for the Republican underperformance in 2022's midterms, and has been cautious in his early 2024 campaign.
His team spent a lot of time before the town hall honing an answer they knew would be asked. Would he support such a ban and for how many weeks?
On Wednesday, it was hard to miss his repeated euphemisms and dodges.
He began by saying that removing Roe v. Wade would be a great thing for the pro-life movement.
He didn't get any more specific than that. He said that he felt 'honored' to have achieved what he did -- a phrase Democrats quickly flagged for potential future advertising -- and it was a "great victory."
Gov. DeSantis, Mr. Trump's Republican opponent. Ron DeSantis signed a six week abortion ban in Florida recently, putting Mr. Trump on the right side of an issue which could resonate with evangelicals. DeSantis was not mentioned by Mr. Trump until after the event had lasted for more than an hour, and then only when a voter prompted him to do so. 'I believe he should relax, take it easy and consider the future', Mr. Trump said.
Trump refused to confirm if he'd sign a federal prohibition, trying to paint Democrats as radicals. He also pledged to support exemptions for rapes, incest, and motherhood. He said, 'I'll negotiate to make people happy.'
"I want to give you another chance," Ms. Collins insisted.
He dodged a final time. He said, 'Make an agreement that will be beneficial.'
His comments about investigations increased his legal risk
The most heated discussion that Mr. Trump and Ms. Collins had was about the investigation by a special counsel into his possession of more than 300 classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago private club after he left his office. This included hundreds of presidential files, including over 300 individual classified records.
It was in this area that he got himself into the most trouble.
"I was there, I took what I had, and it's declassified," said Mr. Trump. He has insisted, despite contradictory statements from his former officials, that the Oval Office declassified documents automatically when they left and reached the residence of the president.
I had no problem doing it. I did not hide it. You know, these boxes were outside the White House and people were taking photos of them,' said Mr. Trump, implying that people knew that they contained presidential material or classified documents (which they did not).
Jack Smith will be very interested to learn that Mr. Trump did not rule out definitively whether he had shown classified material to others, something about which investigators had questioned witnesses, notably in relation to a map containing sensitive intelligence.
He added, "I would have the rights to." He said, "I have the rights to do anything I want with them."
He also defended his call with Georgia's Secretary of State in which he claimed he was trying 'to find' enough votes for him to win. Trump stated that he had not asked him to do anything.
The documents investigation is one of the few things that worries the Trump team, as well as the former President. Mr. Trump expressed this concern in his speech and on his face in New Hampshire.