(CN) --- Former President Donald Trump fielded questions from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and citizens at Wednesday’s town hall at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, and he showed no sign of backing down from the dubious or outright inaccurate claims he's made since losing reelection in 2020.
Trump refused to say he lost the race, insisting there was evidence of election fraud despite contrary proof from sources ranging from an Associated Press election analysis to Trump’s own Attorney General William Barr, who said no widespread corruption was found and the election was not stolen from Trump.
Trump was defiant and combative on a range of issues posed by Collins and members of the audience.
He expressed no regret about the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and said if elected in 2024 he would pardon a “large portion” of those who broke into the Capitol, who he described as “living in hell” in confinement.
He does not believe he owes former Mike Pence an apology for what transpired on that day that put Pence’s life at risk, adding that the former vice president should have turned the election back to the states “and there would have been a different outcome.”
Trump insisted Tuesday’s New York federal jury verdict that he is liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll does not disqualify him as president because “my poll numbers went up” after the verdict. And he called Carroll a “whack job” and the judge “horrible.”
He said the United States should default on its debt obligations if President Joe Biden and House Democrats cannot agree on “massive cuts” in federal spending because “we’re spending like drunken sailors.”
And he told a questioner that gun controls are not the answer to mass shootings, and that with 700 million guns in the country “people who don’t have the privilege to have a gun” may be at greater risk.
Trump did not commit one way or another on a national abortion ban, saying it would have to be negotiated, but added there should be exceptions to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest.
He would reinstitute his administration’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border because, “if you say ‘we will break up your family’ they will not come.”
If he had been in office at the time, he said Russia would not have invaded Ukraine.
“I would have that war settled in one day," Trump asserted, adding that identifying Putin as a war criminal now would prevent peace talks.
Asked by Collins if he would accept the outcome of the 2024 presidential election results, regardless of who wins, Trump said, “If I think it’s an honest election. I would be honored to.”
Despite Trump’s verbal jousting with Collins --- whom he called “a nasty person” at one point --- Wednesday’s town hall by itself was a strategic change for Trump, who had not appeared on CNN since 2016 and who typically makes appearances on right-wing broadcast media.
Although Collins repeatedly attempted to interject fact-checking into the conversation, Trump never wavered and tended to talk over her rebuttals to his oft-repeated errors.
Some Trump critics have said CNN should not have given Trump a platform at all, saying he is a reckless candidate and a threat to democracy if elected.
University of Iowa associate professor Frank Durham, whose research includes journalism history and media framing analysis, said while Trump cannot be ignored, the news media has learned some lessons from the 2016 election.
“Like him or not, Trump is news,” Durham told Courthouse News Service. “The balanced strike for mainstream journalism is to cover the news, not give him control of the news.”
Media organizations, including HuffPost, which sought to ignore Trump initially, made a market choice, he said.
“The national press in general will do well to cover Trump,” as one of a number of presidential candidates, Durham said. “Admittedly, he presents a new kind of subject for the press. But I see them getting adjusted to his constant creation of media events with more detachment.”Follow @@roxalaird16
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