CNN’s decision to host a Donald Trump town hall turned out exactly as you might have expected: a horror show that blew up in their faces. Framed as an opportunity to press the former president with all the issues CNN viewers care about — January 6, E. Jean Carroll, claims of rigged elections — Trump performed in his typical manner: brash, audacious, rude and also hilarious, mocking the network and host Kaitlan Collins openly. Trump’s supporters couldn’t be happier about it — and at CNN, there could not be more consternation about the decision to push forward with this idea in the first place. When you’re calling a broadcast off with twenty minutes left, it’s clear who won.
Less clear, though, is what this type of performance means for 2024. In 2020, Trump won more votes than any Republican ever has and still lost. How many of those 74 million voters will still vote for him in 2024? How many has he lost via his performance on January 6 or his behavior in the years since? Is it enough to make another general election win an impossibility?
If you are confident a return to the White House is impossible, the CNN town hall is something you should support: Trump being Trump on the national stage, reminding people of his capacity for bluster and unseriousness and hardening the opposition he receives from suburban women. If you are less confident that such a return is out of reach, you should be terrified. Trump was in command of the room and the evening — and the degree to which his energy level seems leaps and bounds beyond an increasingly frail Joe Biden can’t be underestimated. Trump does not look like he’s about to keel over in the next five years — can the Democrats say the same about Biden?
What does this mean for Ron DeSantis? It means that he needs to get in, as soon as realistically possible. In his absence from the field, Trump dominates the discussion and the focus. There’s no way to assess a race that isn’t joined. And even if you are a die-hard DeSantis supporter, you have to look at a performance like that and recognize the need to enter the fray.
As for CNN, their executives seem solidly of the opinion — along with many other Democrats — that Trump cannot win again, and so promoting him as the potential nominee in exchange for higher ratings is of no danger. We’ve seen this game before, but having learned nothing from it, they’re doing it all over again — and “the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire.”