When former President Donald Trump took the stage for CNN's town hall at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, he spread misinformation about the election, the economy, and abortion, called a Black Capitol police officer a "thug," called moderator Kaitlan Collins "nasty" for trying to get him to answer a straight question, and got the sympathetic audience to laugh at the assault allegation brought against him by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Across social media, prominent figures reacted with horror — and turned their anger on CNN for even allowing this event to happen in the first place.
Lincoln Project co-founder and former Republican strategist Rick Wilson posted an enraged video to Twitter, calling the town hall "a disaster of the highest f--king degree," and saying that CNN's top executive, Chris Licht, should be "ashamed" of himself for giving a platform to it. His fellow co-founder, Steve Schmidt, agreed, writing, "Here’s what @CNN did tonight: they produced a global television event for an unhinged pathological liar in front of an audience of sycophants and called it 'news.' It was an abomination."
"Donald Trump gave no order to deploy the National Guard to protect the Capitol prior to or on Jan 6," said former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), taking issue with a false claim Trump repeatedly made on stage. "Listen to the testimony of his own secretary of defense. No matter how many times Trump lies about this, the facts won’t change. He is unfit for any office."
"Wow, CNN found an entire room of ‘Republican-leaning independents’ who support pardoning insurrectionists and mocking sexual assault victims," wrote Sawyer Hackett, a Democratic strategist and consultant.
"So if I got this right, the @CNN Townhall with the jury verdict sexual abuser has—so far: Made the audience laugh about sexual abuse; Promoted the horrid family separation atrocity; Promoted election denialism and the Big Lie," wrote human rights lawyer and radio host Qasim Rashid. "Democracy apparently dies on primetime television."
New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat summarized it more succinctly: "As predicted — a rally, leader cult ritual, and propaganda opportunity."
Many other commentators reacted with horror to Trump's answers on Ukraine, during which he refused to pick a clear side in the Russian invasion of the country.
"Donald Trump says he would end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours tonight on CNN. Despite how ridiculous that is to say, I suspect he would try to do it by turning Ukraine over to Putin and Russia. #Putin’s Puppet," wrote former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who is mulling a White House run himself.
"For Trump not to say he wants Ukraine to win is insane," wrote former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).
"Trump: When buildings are blown up a lot of people die," wrote former Naval War College professor Tom Nichols. "No follow up. 'Who's blowing up whose buildings?' He's both sidesing the war effortlessly."
One of the most searing criticisms came from Matt Dowd, a former aide to President George W. Bush.
"Ok, I watched as much as I could. CNN was completely unprepared to hold Trump accountable. CNN has done a complete disservice to our democracy. I withheld judgment on this until I saw it. CNN you failed journalism and our country," wrote Dowd. "Also, this is who 30% of the country is and who GOP voters are. Trump didn’t make them this way, he is a reflection of those voters. Deplorable."