Right-wing media celebrate CNN’s town hall with Donald Trump

Conservative pundits cheered on Trump’s performance as the network’s staff called the event “a disaster, and totally predictable”

Right-wing media celebrated former President Donald Trump’s performance at a CNN town hall Wednesday night, cheering on the Republican front-runner’s steamrolling of moderator Kaitlan Collins. Some called the program a “big victory” and thanked the network for helping the Trump campaign, saying CNN did the former president a “MASSIVE favor.”

  • On The Ingraham Angle, Fox News contributor Ben Domenech congratulated CNN and Collins for amplifying Trump, adding, “This is exactly the kind of forum in which he succeeds. We know this now. And CNN should know this now.”
  • Later on, Fox News contributor Raymond Arroyo lauded the former president and compared him to the late comedian Don Rickles. He said, “Donald Trump scored a big victory going on CNN tonight.” 
  • On Newsmax, host Greg Kelly said the town hall “was an amazing event for Donald Trump.”
  • Later, Kelly followed up and said that Trump “totally killed at the CNN town hall. He ate their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” 
  • Former Fox News contributor and former Trump official Monica Crowley wrote an op-ed in Newsweek under the headline: “He's Back! CNN's Townhall Proves Trump Is Once Again the Dominant Figure of American Politics.”
  • Crowley appeared on former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast to further elaborate. “What we saw last night was major 2016 energy,” Crowley said. She added that Democrats “cannot fathom that this man is still standing, because any other human being would have crumbled long past now.”
  • Bannon was similarly effusive in his praise for Trump, calling the town hall a “humiliation of the mainstream media” and labeling CNN a “disgrace.”

The response was the same on right-wing Twitter.

  • Revolver’s Darren Beattie tweeted: “Total victory for Trump” 
  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk mocked the response from CNN’s on-air marquee talent: “The reaction from Jake Tapper, Anderson Cooper, and the rest of the CNN panelists following the Trump town hall is legitimately hilarious. I would actually watch CNN if they just want to be perpetually depressed and dejected. Maybe they've found their ratings solution?”
  • The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro wrote a typically long-winded response that began: “CNN did Trump a MASSIVE favor last night and everybody knows it. Here's why.” Shapiro then argued the entire night was framed around questions that Democrats care about, not Republican voters, concluding it was a “ridiculous failure by CNN on all fronts -- unless, of course, their goal is to renominate Trump for the ratings and because they think he's most beatable (NOTE: this, by the way, is precisely their goal).”
  • Shapiro’s Daily Wire colleague Michael Knowles wrote: “On the bright side, libs, at least now you can prosecute Trump for murdering CNN.”
  • Right-wing troll Catturd reacted to the event with: “Trump just won the Presidency. Thanks CNN.”
  • Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton also claimed CNN had adopted a liberal framing: “This @CNN event shows why media is so untrusted by Americans. @kaitlancollins arguing with Trump using false Democratic/leftist talking points.”
  • Editor-in-chief at The Federalist Mollie Hemmingway responded to Puck senior correspondent Dylan Byers’ reporting that CNN cut the broadcast short by tweeting: “Trump did so well that CNN ran off the field LOL.”
  • Former Trump adviser Stephen Miller tweeted: “Thank you @CNN for giving President Trump a platform to speak directly to the American People about his plans to save America, stop World War III, and restore peace and stability in the world.”
  • YouTube streamer Tim Pool shared an image of Trump as a buff anime figure, captioning it: “Donald Trump circa 2023, CNN townhall stage.”
  • Rape apologist Mike Cernovich also praised Trump: “We all know I don’t think Trump wins the general but he’s in his element and this is a humiliating night for CNN. At least is funny watching the worst people get [poop emoji] on.”
  • “Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec praised Trump for “dropping truth bombs” and criticizing Capitol Police for shooting January 6 insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt.

Even CNN staff realized they had staged a train wreck, an especially poor outcome for network CEO Chris Licht, who had reportedly hoped the event would serve as a “reset” for the network.

“It's hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN Wednesday evening,”CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy wrote  in his newsletter.

Trump lied about the 2020 election. He took no responsibility for the January 6 insurrection that those very lies incited. And he mocked E. Jean Carroll's allegations of sexual assault, which a jury found him liable for on Tuesday. 

And CNN aired it all. On and on it went. It felt like 2016 all over again. It was Trump's unhinged social media feed brought to life on stage. And Collins was put in an uncomfortable position, given the town hall was conducted in front of a Republican audience that applauded Trump, giving a sense of unintended endorsement to his shameful antics.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper gave a summary of Trump’s performance that went viral, listing the former president’s lies and offensive statements and perhaps unintentionally highlighting his own network’s shortcomings.

Other media and political reporters shared similar dour assessments.

  • Washington Post media reporter Jeremy Barr tweeted: “Rapid reaction from a CNN staffer: ‘A disaster, and totally predictable.’” 
  • Media critic Brian Stelter reported the same internal sentiments: “Covering Trump is ‘tricky and messy,’ Licht says, and it will ‘continue to be messy and tricky, but it's our job.’ He confidently says ‘America was served very well by what we did last night.’ Many CNN employees strongly disagree.”
  • New York Times reporter Jonathan Swan offered a sunny reaction from inside Trumpworld: “Advisers to Trump are thrilled at how this is going so far for him. They can’t believe he is getting an hour on CNN with an audience that cheers his every line and laughs at his every joke.”
  • Puck’s Byers reported that CNN cut the broadcast short: “Note: The CNN Town Hall was a 90 minute broadcast, though the network expected the actual event to go as long as 75 minutes. They stopped less than 70 minutes in. In other words, they could have gone longer if they wanted—which is usually what executives do with big ratings draws.”
  • Semafor’s Max Tani corroborated the anger inside CNN: “Five CNN employees told Semafor how upset and disturbed they were by the event. Several said they were frustrated by Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, as well as the decision to fill the audience with many of his supporters who applauded the president’s criticism of their colleague.”
  • Politico’s influential morning newsletter Playbook reported the same:

“It was a complete disaster,” one CNN employee told Playbook, arguing that the format — specifically, stacking the audience with Trump supporters who cheered his lies — was a “strategic error.” “It made it seem like CNN was endorsing that behavior,” the employee said. “Incredibly disappointing.”

Extremist, fringe figures gave similar responses. Failed congressional candidate, Islamophobe, and white nationalist Laura Loomer wrote on Gettr: “Trump really dominated that CNN ragdoll who wouldn’t let him speak.” A top post on a QAnon forum read, “Do not underestimate the gravity and significance of what we just witnessed happen on CNN. President Donald J. Trump just received a STANDING OVATION from a CNN audience. Have the White Hats infiltrated CNN?” 

Licht had reportedly been hoping the Trump town hall would be a “reset.” Instead his network got a beatdown, one that — as his own workers knew — was entirely predictable.