An unrepentant Donald Trump held firm to past grievances at the first televised town hall of the 2024 US presidential election on Wednesday, making clear from the moment he took the stage that he has little intention of mounting a more disciplined campaign for his third White House bid.
In a contentious 70-minute broadcast, Trump drew laughter from a New Hampshire audience when he mocked writer E. Jean Carroll’s account of his having sexually abused her, repeated falsehoods about his 2020 election loss, said he would pardon many of his supporters convicted of taking part in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, and called his CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins a “nasty person.”
Responding to questions from Collins and members of the audience at Saint Anselm College, Trump made no effort to offer more moderate positions on issues, which political analysts say is key to broadening his appeal to a wider swath of Republicans.
Asked by Collins whether he would acknowledge that he lost to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020, the Republican Trump reasserted unfounded claims that the election was rigged against him, brushing aside her attempts to correct the record.
“That was a rigged election,” Trump said, adding that anyone who thought otherwise was “stupid.”
Trump, the front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination, declined to express regret for the deadly attack on the US Capitol when supporters sought to prevent Congress from ratifying the election result, and he repeated his plan to pardon individuals involved if voters return him to the White House in 2024.
“I am inclined to pardon many of them. I can’t say for every single one because a couple of them, probably, they got out of control,” Trump said.
Trump and Collins frequently spoke over each other with Collins challenging a number of the former president’s false claims about both the 2020 election and the attack on Jan. 6 which followed a speech he gave to supporters outside the White House that day.
“I’ve never spoken to a crowd as large as that, and that was because they thought the election was rigged. They were there with love in their heart. That was unbelievable, and it was a beautiful day,” he said.
The audience of Republicans and independent voters who plan to vote in the Republican primary were generally very supportive of Trump, giving him a standing ovation when he took the stage. New Hampshire is an early nominating state that could prove critical in his bid to return to the White House.
Responding to Trump’s remarks, the Democratic National Committee said the former president “lied about the 2020 election” for 20 minutes and criticized his characterizing Jan. 6, 2021, as “a beautiful day.”
“This would be disgusting if it wasn’t so dangerous,” DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
Collins tried to fact-check Trump’s assertions in real time, sometimes leading to the two talking over each other as Trump refused to back down.
On Tuesday, a federal jury found Trump sexually abused Carroll in a department store dressing room in Manhattan in the 1990s, then harmed her reputation by describing her claims as “a hoax” and “a lie.”
“What kind of a woman meets somebody and brings them up and within minutes, you’re playing hanky panky in a dressing room?” Trump said, one of many disparaging comments about Carroll that elicited applause and laughter. He called her a “wack job.”
After Tuesday’s verdict, Carroll issued a statement saying: “Today, the world finally knows the truth ... This victory is not just for me but for every woman who has suffered because she was not believed.”
Trump stood by his remarks in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which he bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, suggesting stars could have their way with them. The comments were used against Trump at trial.
“And you would like me to take that back. I can’t take it back because it happens to be true. I said, it’s been true for 1 million years, approximately a million years, perhaps a little bit longer than that,” Trump said. “I’m not referring to myself, I’m saying people that are famous, people that are stars.”
Trump, who was absent throughout the two-week trial, was asked by an audience member what he had to say to voters who say it disqualifies him from being president.
“Well, there aren’t too many of them because my poll numbers just came out. They went up,” he said.