It was 2016 all over again on CNN on Wednesday night, with the network hosting a town hall with Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. CNN This Morning co-anchor and former White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins moderated the proceedings, which took place in New Hampshire with an audience of voters who plan to cast a ballot in the GOP primary.
Former President Trump traded barbs with Collins over the course of the 70 minute broadcast that included questions about January 6, the legitimacy of the 2020 election, abortion, and E. Jean Carroll’s defamation lawsuit against him. The criticism for CNN was swift, with the network’s own talent publicly expressing their outrage over the event. It did, however, attract eyeballs to the beleaguered cable news channel, with some 3.1 million viewers tuning in.
On Thursday’s show, Megyn gave her thoughts on the spectacle and explained why Trump “won the night” as part of an event that otherwise “pleased no one.”
Why Trump Was the Big Winner
As Megyn explained, CNN was trying to “thread the needle” with this town hall because of its ratings woes. The once-centrist network that was all-Trump-all-the-time in the run up to the 2016 election, took a hard left turn once the former president took office.
Under its new leadership, CNN is purportedly trying to become less overtly ideological again while also restoring the audience that has fled in droves. “They’re under new ownership which reportedly wants to restore CNN’s reputation as a somewhat boring but mostly non-partisan news channel that might be acceptable even to Republicans,” Megyn shared. “I support that mission, but don’t believe it’s possible with the cast of anchors that drove those Republican viewers away in the first place.” While she believed firing Don Lemon and Brian Stelter was a start, “their lineup from start to finish not only hates the GOP, they don’t know the first thing about them.”
That is but one of many reasons Megyn said the town hall “failed on every front except one.” It was “wildly successful in giving Donald Trump an hour of free air time to make his case without laying a glove on him.” The bottom line: “It was train-wreck TV,” she added.
How the Town Hall ‘Spun Out of Control’
Surrounded by a friendly audience during an hour of primetime, Megyn said the GOP candidate reminded CNN just how challenging he is to reign in. “It was like they forgot everything we know about Trump,” she explained. “Like how hard he is to control, how he likes to filibuster, how difficult it is to fact-check him in real time, how important time limits on answers are when dealing with him, how the way to stop him from talking is to remind him to respect the audience and their time – not to just start talking during his answers over and over and over.” The latter backfires, in Megyn’s view, because “you look rude instead of Trump.”
For these reasons, the town hall “quickly spun out of control,” and Collins “was ill-equipped to stop it,” Megyn said. A town hall is supposed to be about the candidate and the audience, and the host should “fade into obscurity.” Collins, however, “hijacked the event by trying to turn it into something about her… trying to fact check him at every turn, and… not knowing when the horse is dead and there’s no reason to keep beating it,” she added.
The fact checking made it seem like Collins “wanted to appease CNN’s existing audience and her media critics,” Megyn noted. “She knew she’d get points if she injected her opinion – disguised as fact checks – in there. That’s not the job of a journalist.”
Who Wrote the Questions?
The purpose of town halls and debates is to help the constituency decide which candidate is worthy of their vote. In order to do that, the questions must be relevant to the voters, which is why Megyn said such events “ought to be hosted by anchors who understand what is important to that candidate’s party.”
Prior to joining CNN, Collins worked for The Daily Caller, but Megyn said her performance showed “her days of connecting with GOP audiences are apparently over.” And though the questions were supposed to come from the audience, Megyn observed that it was Collins “who raised most of these or who refused to move on from them once Trump had answered – in some cases repeatedly.”
When it came to the line of questioning, Megyn joked that topics sounded like they were selected by Rachel Maddow or the never-Trumpers at the Lincoln Project. “January 6, election denialism, Mar-a-Lago documents, the E. Jean Carroll sexual abuse case… are these the topics Republican voters want to devote their town halls to in order to make the best primary decision,” Megyn asked. “Only a liberal would think so.”
A staggering 20 minutes were spent rehashing the events that transpired at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and the outcome of the 2020 election, while just three minutes were devoted to the economy. “Where were the questions about inflation or the banking crisis and what to do about it,” Megyn asked. “One-third of the debate on whether he lost last time around, the ‘insurrection,’ and pardons for its participants may be cat-nip for the left, but it’s not what’s driving GOP voters.”
There were no inquiries, Megyn noted, about the COVID-19 pandemic (think: if Trump wishes he had fired Dr. Anthony Fauci or whether or not he regrets the lockdowns), where he stands on women’s rights vis-à-vis the trans community, what his plans are to address the intelligence agencies’ capture by hard partisans, if government should be used to shut down corporate ideologies that Republicans don’t like (as Gov. Ron DeSantis is doing in Florida), or what he would do about tech censorship of conservatives.
The Town Hall ‘That Pleased No One’
Ultimately, Megyn believes the town hall was set up to fail. Collins is “young” and “inexperienced,” and she “wasted precious time” with her unsuccessful fact checks and follow up questions,” she noted. “She wasn’t up to the job.”
Couple that with the poorly conceived topics, and the only person who got anything out of the evening was Trump. “Had the topic selection been better and more germane to its audience, had [Collins] interfered less and only when it really mattered, and had there been a time limit on [Trump’s] answers, her interruptions the fact-checking would have been less needed and more effective when it was deployed,” Megyn concluded. “Instead, you had an anchor who looked out of her depth, a candidate who seized the opportunity and won the night, and a network that pleased approximately no one.”
You can check out the full episode by tuning in to episode 548 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.