Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, once again refused to concede that he lost the 2020 election and repeated his false claims about it being stolen at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
Taking questions from Republican and undeclared voters at the town hall moderated by “CNN This Morning” anchor Kaitlan Collins, Trump remained defiant about his lies about the 2020 election as well as the myriad investigations into him – making clear that he’s sticking to the script he’s delivered over the past two years on conservative media.
The town hall at Saint Anselm College – his first appearance on CNN since 2016 – came as unprecedented legal clouds hang over him as he seeks to become only the second commander in chief ever elected to two nonconsecutive terms. New Hampshire, home to the first-in-the-nation GOP primary, is also home to many swing voters.
He attacked Tuesday’s jury verdict that found he sexually abused former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, whom he mocked while downplaying the significance of the $5 million award to Carroll for battery and defamation.
Trump also would not commit to signing a federal abortion ban and suggested that Republicans should not raise the debt limit and allow the US to default if the Biden White House will not agree to spending cuts.
The former president said he would pardon “a large portion” of the rioters at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and even pulled out a printout of his own tweets from that day in an attempt to deflect blame as Collins pressed him on why he waited three hours before telling the rioters to leave the Capitol.
“I am inclined to pardon many of them,” Trump said Wednesday night.
When Collins pressed Trump on the Manhattan federal jury finding Trump sexually abused Carroll in a luxury department store dressing room in 1996, Trump suggested it was helping his poll numbers.
When asked if the jury’s decision would deter women from voting for him, the former president said, “No, I don’t think so.”
Trump also took questions from New Hampshire voters on the economy and policy issues, such as abortion. The former president, who solidified the conservative majority on the Supreme Court that struck down Roe v. Wade, repeatedly declined to say whether he would sign a federal abortion ban if he won a second term.
Trump also suggested Republicans should refuse to raise the debt limit if the White House does not agree to spending cuts.
“I say to the Republicans out there – congressmen, senators – if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default, and I don’t believe they’re going to do a default because I think the Democrats will absolutely cave, will absolutely cave because you don’t want to have that happen, but it’s better than what we’re doing right now because we’re spending money like drunken sailors,” Trump said.
When Collins asked him to clarify whether the US should default if the White House doesn’t agree to cuts, Trump said, “We might as well do it now than do it later.”
Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump also faces potential legal peril in both Washington, DC – where a special counsel is leading a pair of investigations – and in Georgia, where the Fulton County district attorney plans to announce charges this summer from the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election in the Peach State.
Still, the twice-impeached former president has repeatedly said that any charges will not stop him from running for president, dismissing all of the investigations as politically motivated witch hunts. That’s a view many GOP voters share, according to recent surveys. Nearly 70% of Republican primary voters in a recent NBC News poll said investigations into the former president “are politically motivated” and that “no other candidate is like him, we must support him.”
While a handful of rivals have entered the Republican presidential primary – and Trump’s biggest potential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has not yet officially launched a bid – Trump has maintained a healthy lead in early GOP primary polling. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday, 43% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents named Trump unprompted when asked who they would like to see the party nominate in 2024, compared with 20% naming DeSantis, and 2% or less naming any other candidate.
Trump’s participation in the town hall is indicative of a broader campaign strategy to try to expand his appeal beyond conservative media viewers, CNN’s Kristen Holmes reported earlier Wednesday. He’s surrounded himself with a more organized team and has been making smaller retail politics stops while scaling back larger rallies – signs of a more traditional campaign than his 2016 and 2020 operations. He lost that 2020 race by about 7 million votes, although he continues to falsely claim it was stolen from him.
There have been warning signs for the GOP that the obsession with the 2020 election isn’t palatable beyond the base. Many of Trump’s handpicked candidates who embraced his election lies in swing states lost in last year’s midterm elections. And his advisers acknowledge he still has work to do to engage with Republican voters outside of his loyal base of supporters, multiple sources told CNN.
This is Trump’s third trip to the Granite State since launching his campaign last fall. Wednesday’s live town hall audience was made up of Republicans and undeclared voters who plan to vote in the GOP primary. Trump handily won the primaries there in 2016 and 2020 before losing the state in both general elections.
This story has been updated with additional details from the town hall.