Never mind the naysayers. Donald Trump’s CNN town hall was a stroke of brilliance. The very act of doing 70 minutes of television with hostile media was an act of bravado that distinguishes Trump from all competitors. His performance also dispelled the argument from his detractors on the Left and the Right that he is yesterday’s news. Far from it. The man we saw on stage Wednesday night was a fireball of charisma.
The celebrity president showed off his many sides: bully, truth teller, peacemaker, strongman, comedian. CNN host Kaitlan Collins, on the other hand, sounded like a petulant little sister. Trump had complete control as she took turns shaming her guest over various transgressions: January 6, the “Big Lie,” Access Hollywood. It all bounced right off the Donald.
Trump had just been found liable the day before of assault (but not rape) for allegedly attacking advice columnist E. Jean Carroll in a department store fitting room at some indeterminate point in the 1990s, and of defamation for calling Carroll a liar. Another man would shrink under the pressure and apologize on behalf of his sex, but not Trump. Instead, he turned Carroll’s outlandish story into a gag.
“What kind of a woman meets somebody . . . and within minutes, you’re playing hanky panky in a dressing room?” Trump said.
Carroll, Trump also informed us, has a pet named after a part of the female anatomy. His mockery of a “victim” led to considerable pearl-clutching on the Left and a handful on the Right, and yet Carroll’s story is so unbelievable even a New York jury did not accept it fully. If truth and justice mean anything, it wouldn’t be fair to let Carroll (a “whack job,” as Trump called her) have the last word.
One of the things Trump’s supporters love about the man is that he “tells it like it is.” For all his hyperbole and absurdity, he is often scrupulously honest, not only about himself but about his enemies. (“You’re a nasty person,” he told Collins.)
The problem with Trump’s enemies is that they are unhinged by him. They can’t help but dirty him up with the most vicious and outlandish stories. The constant hysteria shows they are desperate, and it leaves the door wide open for “literally Hitler” to stun everyone by saying something true and reasonable, which he does more often than is acknowledged.
We saw this a number of times Wednesday. While defending his comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump pointed out that Collins was asking him to lie. Trump noted, as an unprejudiced observer would readily understand, that he never actually bragged about grabbing women in department stores. He was saying, in his crude way, that power is an aphrodisiac. That women are attracted to powerful men has been true for “approximately a million years, perhaps a little bit longer,” Trump said. “I can’t take it back because it happens to be true.”
Trump knows it’s true because, as he loves to boast, he’s a star. By asking Trump to retract a universal truth, Collins was demanding that the audience join her in a lie—a Big Lie, if you will.
On foreign policy, Trump gave an adult answer to a childish question. Collins had asked, “Do you want Ukraine to win this war?” Really, this was a demand for an oath of loyalty. Trump refused to pick sides. “I want everybody to stop dying,” he replied. Then Collins went for the kill shot: Would Trump call Vladimir Putin a war criminal? Again, Trump refused to take the bait. To use such inflammatory language, he said, would make negotiating peace an impossibility.
On his signature issue, immigration, Trump refused to take anything off the table that would deter the historic invasion currently underway. It was a sober and timely answer, coming the very night before the floodgates opened with the end of Title 42. “If a family hears they’re going to be separated, they love their family, they don’t come,” he said. Cowards call this cruel, but a problem solver would say it’s just common sense.
The stultifyingly stupid and dishonest status quo (represented perfectly in Collins) needs its foil, and that man is Trump—and nobody else. Those eager to move on would be wise to withhold judgment. After almost 10 years of holding the country’s imagination captive, Trump remains a man both loved and feared like none other.