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Trump talks dictatorship, abortion at Fox town hall

Former President Donald Trump held a town hall that was aired on Fox News Wednesday night, talking policy and politics opposite his Republican rivals' debate on CNN.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Former President Donald Trump held a town hall in Iowa Wednesday night, bashing Joe Biden and his Republican opponents in the 2024 race for the nation's highest office, staking out a complicated position on abortion rights and repeating his promise to become a dictator “for just one day.” 

Trump fielded questions from a half-dozen Iowans and two Fox News hosts in the forum, speaking in his trademark digressive style on foreign policy, energy, abortion and the economy. Apparently following the public suggestions of his host, Fox anchor Bret Baier, Trump made no mention of his repeated claims of election fraud in his 2020 loss to Joe Biden, while seemingly misunderstanding Baier’s request that he denounce political violence. 

“In the last two speeches, President Biden is focusing his campaign on the threat to democracy and political violence,” Baier asked the former president. “Can you say tonight that political violence is never acceptable?”

“Of course that’s right, and of course, I’m the one that had very little of it,” Trump replied. “Take a look at wars, again, I didn’t start, I wasn’t involved with wars, we beat the hell out of ISIS.”

Fox's town hall aired simultaneously with a CNN-hosted debate between Trump’s GOP primary rivals Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley elsewhere in Des Moines. Baier and fellow Fox Anchor Martha MacCallum were tapped to moderate the event, which they said ran against the debate at the Trump camp’s bidding and which featured an audibly Trump-friendly crowd but included some supporters of his Republican rivals. 

Trump was bullish on his chances in the primaries and general election, hand-waving various civil and criminal proceedings against him as “a witch hunt” before moving to other topics. He took shots at former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who suspended his presidential campaign hours before the forum, along with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Trump also hinted that he had decided on a running-mate, but when pressed for a hint said only that longtime enemy Christie would be a long shot. 

Trump spent much of the forum returning to three core issues: inflation, energy, and immigration. The former president repeatedly claimed that he had made the U.S. energy independent during his term — a talking point broadlydebunked, and at least complicated, when he began making it in 2022 — and that the Biden administration’s failure to maintain that status had led to inflation and even to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Energy is so big, it’s so, such a big deal, that when energy goes up, if you make donuts, if you make hamburgers, anything you do… it’s all energy. And we have the highest cost of energy in history,” Trump said. 

Trump also repeated his now-routine boast, trotted out in response to concerns that if elected he would try to take totalitarian power, that he would establish a brief, limited dictatorship upon election. 

“I’m gonna be a dictator for one day. We’re gonna do two things: the border, we’re gonna make it so tight, you’re not gonna come in unless you come in legally, and the second is energy, we’re gonna drill baby drill. And then I’m not gonna be a dictator anymore,” the hotel mogul and onetime reality TV star said. 

The largely gregarious town hall had one quieter moment when a woman named Rebecca from Ogden, who is anti-abortion, asked about Trump’s bona fides on abortion issues. 

Trump, Rebecca said, had “blamed pro-lifers for some of the GOP losses around the country, and you’ve called heartbeat laws like Iowa’s terrible.” In light of these comments, she continued, “I’d like for you to reassure me that you can protect… every person’s right to life without compromise.” 

Trump was quick to take credit for the overturn of Roe v. Wade by a conservative Supreme Court majority shortly after his exit from office. “For 50 years they wanted to get Roe V. Wade terminated, and I did it,” he said in response to Ogden’s question. “We did it, and it was a miracle.” 

“Nobody’s done more in that regard than me. Now, I happen to be for the exceptions, like Ronald Reagan, life of the mother, rape, incest ... Ronald Reagan, he was for it, I was for it,” Trump said. “But I will say this, you have to win elections.” 

Trump briefly appeared to gesture toward a more moderate stance on abortion. “I wanna get something where people are happy. I mean, this has been tearing our country apart for 50 years,” he said. “I love where you’re coming from, but we still have to win elections.” 

He then proceeded to call Democrats extremists and claimed, hyperbolically at best, that doctors were leaving living babies to die after birth.

Baier told the New York Times this week that Trump needed convincing to take part in the town hall, the first time he has appeared on the network for a live interview since 2022. Trump has been widely critical of the network since it called the 2020 election in Biden’s favor, and repeatedly took jabs at it, Baier and MacCallum throughout the town hall. 

Categories / Government, Politics

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