If Glenn Youngkin’s appearance on CNN this week tells us anything, it’s that Republicans still need to learn the lessons of the network’s Parkland town hall from back in February 2018. High school survivors, on stage in front of the country, were permitted to paint Senator Marco Rubio as a blood-soaked murderer. Now disgraced sheriff Steve Israel was allowed to whip the crowd into a frenzy, enough to the point where Dana Loesch, then spokesperson for the NRA had to be escorted out of the arena with security. CNN wanted the Jerry Springer-type environment and they got it.
All this unfolded under the watchful eye of moderator Jake Tapper, who once worked for gun control lobby group Handgun Control, Inc. He hosted the event at the behest of Democratic state lawmakers— and stood by and let it all happen. The NRA had nothing to do with the Parkland High School shooting and neither did Marco Rubio. It turns out the school board and local sheriff ignored several public warning signs from the shooter. That didn’t matter. CNN had their new star guests and Tapper landed his blows.
Fast forward to this week, when Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin thought it would be wise to step into the exact same kind of type of ambush: a Tapper-hosted CNN town hall with supposed Virginia voters, on topics ranging from education and guns. You’ll never believe how it went.
Tapper pressed Youngkin on accepting the framing of the New York Times’s 1619 Project — that the arrival of slaves onto this continent’s shores in 1619 was a founding point for this country — into education curriculum. Youngkin answered competently enough — but not once did either he nor Tapper acknowledge the several subsequent revisions to the 1619 Project by the New York Times itself, after criticism from actual historians, or that the Project’s curator Nikole Hannah-Jones had admitted trying to push it into school curriculums across the country. Youngkin did not outright reject Tapper’s framing of the entire subject. He should have branded the 1619 Project and philosophy around it fiction and been done with it.
Also present was a seventeen-year-old transgender high school student who asked Youngkin why they should not be allowed to use the male restrooms at their school. “Look at me, I am a transgender man. Do you really think that the girls in my high school would feel comfortable sharing a restroom with me?”
This is not someone who attended as a constituent of Glenn Youngkin — he can’t vote yet! — but as a trap set up by CNN on the contentious issue. Once again Youngkin handled the question and the audience member affably, and cited the need for unisex bathrooms. He did hold his ground on biological males playing in female sports.
Youngkin is a talented politician but that is completely beside the point. The Virginia governor had to stand on a stage for up to an hour and accept Jake Tapper and CNN’s framing of the issues. That’s what has to change with Republicans ahead of the next national election. There is nothing to be accomplished by walking into this kind of environment — both CNN and Jake Tapper know this, even in the new, “more centrist,” less well viewed Chris Licht era. Youngkin ultimately only boosts CNN’s faulty ratings as they try to generate controversy around a fairly popular governor and possible future presidential candidate.
CNN’s agenda is not to have an honest debate. Not on gender, race, guns or schools. Under Jeff Zucker, CNN was interested in the show trial. It appears that under Licht, nothing has changed. Eventually, maybe Youngkin and Republicans will learn this lesson.