In today’s Morning Shots:
Alpha Man runs away from debates and testimony.
CNN’s tangled web.
Overturning elections in Texas.
The text that got Tucker fired?
Trump’s 26 accusers.
Of course he can win.
The bravest, most dominant, manliest of alpha males — the man who promises “I am your retribution!” — absolutely does not want to get on the stage with anyone who runs against him.
And so, he probably won’t. Because, well, you know.
As my colleague Joe Perticone reported yesterday: “Some of Trump’s most die-hard supporters—people like failed candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake—think the primary should be scrapped altogether so the party can rally around him. But for now, Trump isn’t going that far. He just doesn’t want to have to debate.”
That’s actually very much on-brand for Trump.
It’s not an empty threat. Trump’s tantrums have resulted in no-shows in each of the past two presidential election cycles: In 2016, he skipped the primary debate just before the Iowa caucuses, as well as a later primary debate that was ultimately canceled as a result of his refusal to appear; in 2020, he balked at the second general election debate to avoid facing Joe Biden again.
Sure enough, the NYT is reporting: “Trump Likely to Sit Out One or Both of First Two G.O.P. Debates.” Apparently, he’s afraid of . . . Bret Baier.
“Why would I have Bret Baier” question me, Mr. Trump told an associate, explaining a reason to skip the Fox News debate. Mr. Trump was furious with Mr. Baier, a Fox host, over his coverage of the 2020 election, in which Mr. Baier refuted many of the election-fraud claims made by the Trump team.
But Trump will do that CNN townhall next week. Semafor’s Benjy Sarlin notes the irony here. “Donald Trump demonized ‘fake news.’ So Ron DeSantis cut them off entirely. Now Trump is back on CNN and mocking DeSantis for not doing the same. Shouldn’t have taken him literally!”
Meanwhile, CNN is having a bit of trouble explaining why it is giving the twice-impeached, indicted, election-denying, sedition-inspiring, chronically lying, accused rapist ex-president a live primetime forum.
Check out the explanation that CNN’s political director David Chalian gave Vanity Fair’s Charlotte Klein.
Ultimately, it’s CNN’s view that while Trump is “a unique candidate,” who “since being president has a series of investigations around him”—and “there was how he left the presidency,” Chalian also noted, ostensibly referencing the January 6 insurrection—the network is going to treat him like any other presidential candidate.
So . . . he’s “unique” . . . but CNN will “treat him like any other” candidate. This seems to scream self-contradiction, and Chalian struggles to square the circle:
While “all of that context makes him a unique candidate,” it “does not make our approach any different, in the sense that we hold every candidate who comes to CNN accountable for their words,” Chalian said. He added that CNN has approached every major presidential candidate and potential candidate about participating in CNN’s coverage—the presidential town hall being a part of that.
But, as the Wapo’s Philip Bump points out, this chop logic ignores the orange elephant in the room.
The CNN townhall, he writes, “will fall into the same category as so much of the pre-2016 coverage: providing a forum for salesman Trump to misinform and mislead viewers to make himself as palatable as possible. In other words, it will not inform CNN’s audience. Quite the opposite.
Even if they wanted to, a live broadcast has an unalterable constraint: time. Swan and Wallace could challenge Trump for an hour and cut the interview down to the necessary runtime. Collins and CNN can’t.
Trump can easily throw out more nonsense than CNN has time to fact-check, even if it intended to.
So what’s the value? It’s good to get Trump on-record on issues, particularly from a news outlet such as CNN that is going to be less credulous and obsequious than Trump’s usual interlocutors. But in this format, that seems less likely. Trump is already well into the habit of saying the same things over and over in interviews; given predictable jumping-off points from average people, he’ll have lots of opportunity to continue to do so.
ICYMI: On yesterday’s podcast, A.B. Stoddard and I discussed CNN’s normalization of Trump.
You can listen to the whole thing here.
Because I’m not a lawyer and don’t play one on television, I’m not prejudging the E. Jean Carroll case, or making any predictions about the outcome.
But this tweet is a useful reminder of just how numbed we have become by all of this: