CNN’s Kaitlan Collins played host to Donald Trump Wednesday night in New Hampshire at what was billed as a voter town hall.
What we saw was a reminder that Trump and CNN deserve each other.
In 2016, America’s cable TV news networks, including CNN, were effectively Donald Trump’s biggest donors.
During the Republican primary, they lavished him with free TV coverage, including airing his rallies live.
That unchallenged airtime would have been worth billions of dollars for a campaign to buy.
CNN profited off the partnership with Trump, building its programming for years around viewers who loved to hate him.
Today, CNN’s ratings are in the dumps.
Late-afternoon anchor Jake Tapper can’t even draw one-sixth of his Twitter followers to watch his TV show.
So the network agreed to host this prime-time event for Trump, with evening anchor Collins getting to showcase her chops tangling with the former president.
From the outset, CNN and Collins couldn’t decide what kind of show this was supposed to be.
It’s good journalism to host a confrontational interview with a newsmaker.
It’s also good journalism to step back and let a candidate interact with people who may vote in his party’s primary.
But it’s impossible to do both at once.
So we got treated to a schizophrenic evening in which Collins hammered Trump from the left while a handful of voters got to ask him questions more attuned to an audience of Republican primary voters.
Collins wasn’t up to the task.
Over and over, she smugly dismissed Trump’s assertions rather than probing them in the way a good lawyer would.
If anything, this helped Trump get the crowd on his side. She seemed oblivious to the fact that the audience for this interview didn’t share her assumptions — or worse, she was happy to be used by Trump as a foil.
Trump, for his part, looked bloated in a suit that barely buttoned and a necktie down to his crotch and snapped at Collins, “You are a nasty person,” before the two offered a handshake to signal that this is all just how the game works.
Noticeably, when he attacked Ron DeSantis as “DeSanctimonious” and suggested he shouldn’t run, he got little crowd response. New Hampshire voters prefer to size up DeSantis for themselves.
Trump had some good moments. He defended his strong economic record: “This place was rockin’!” Distancing himself from recent criticisms of pro-lifers, he hit Democratic extremism on abortion.
He was vintage Trump in just asserting that he could negotiate to solve everything. On abortion, “What I would do is negotiate so people are happy.”
On the Ukraine war, he’d sit down face to face with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and settle the war in 24 hours.
Collins asked why he changed his stance on whether Congress should demand concessions to raise the debt ceiling: “Why is it different now that you’re out of office?” Trump answered candidly: “Now, I’m not president.”
He was also Trump at his worst.
He dug in on his obsession with the 2020 election being “rigged.”
He smeared the Capitol Police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt on Jan. 6 as a “thug” when the officer was doing the same things many cops have done in tough split-second situations. He pledged to pardon most Jan. 6 defendants.
Confronted over classified documents, he got in some amusing shots at President Biden for keeping records in his garage by his Corvette but also went off on a pointless ramble about how “they don’t even speak English in Chinatown.”
Discussing his recent civil trial for sexual assault, he bizarrely claimed that “a rich and famous person has no advantage over anyone else” in court. Trump seemed immune to the irony of saying about the sexual assault trial, “I’m the only person in history who had a charge like that . . . usually, you leave office . . . and my poll numbers go up.”
When the circus comes to town, everyone wants to be a clown.
CNN could have done a serious interview, it could have done a genuinely engaging town hall, or it could have denied Trump a soap box.
But it wanted the old Trump Show, so that is what it gave America.
This story originally appeared on NYPost