EXCLUSIVE: Trump Interview Hits DeSantis, Abortion, New Media Blitz
Trump calls DeSantis "disloyal," says CNN was "traumatized" by town hall. But he's more cautious about abortion legislation.
Former President Donald Trump’s CNN town hall appearance marked a turning point in his media management strategy, as his campaign plans to do more outreach beyond conservative media.
In his first mainstream media remarks since the New Hampshire event last week, Trump told The Messenger that the network should have boasted about the eyeballs he brought it.
“I was amazed to see that they were traumatized by what took place. They were actually traumatized,” Trump said in a wide-ranging 30-minute interview concerning his campaign. “They should have said, ‘we had a tremendous ratings night, one of the best in years, many years,’ and spiked the football.”
Until last week, Trump largely confined himself to conservative outlets and was embroiled in such a toxic relationship with the network that his crowds used to chant “CNN sucks!” at his rallies. That dynamic began to change after Trump had a falling out with Fox News over its coverage of his 2020 election loss and once CNN started to reboot its coverage under new CEO Chris Licht.
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In his interview with The Messenger, Trump expounded on his favorite topics, like the media, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and the 2020 election. When it came to questions about abortion, however, Trump was more cautious.
Here are the top lines from the interview:
The early frontrunner in polls of the Republican primary for president, Trump faces the prospect of running for his old job against a one-time ally DeSantis. And it’s already looking bitter as DeSantis prepares to announce his bid for president in the coming days.
As president, Trump provided a crucial endorsement for DeSantis in his first run for governor in 2018 when the Republican was a little-known congressman running against a better-known and better-funded primary opponent, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. As a result, Trump has branded DeSantis as disloyal.
“He's got no personality. And I don't think he's got a lot of political skill,” Trump said.
Trump’s blunt communication style, however, becomes more vague when it comes to the issue of abortion. He’s not clear on what sort of restrictions he would support and wouldn’t say if he agreed or disagreed with DeSantis’s decision to sign a six-week abortion ban in Florida.
“He has to do what he has to do,” Trump said when asked about Florida’s new abortion restrictions. “If you look at what DeSantis did, a lot of people don't even know if he knew what he was doing. But he signed six weeks, and many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh.”
Trump wouldn’t say if he believed a six week ban went too far.
ON ELECTION FRAUD
But where Trump is reticent to discuss abortion, he can’t stop talking about his 2020 reelection. He claims he didn’t lose, even though there’s no evidence to support his position. His repeated losses in court over the issue and his previous campaign’s research also found no evidence of widespread systemic election fraud.
Both DeSantis and President Joe Biden have taken aim at Trump for dwelling on the last presidential election.
Trump said he won’t completely jettison the issue, however, because “I think if I didn't I would actually be rebuked by a large portion of the Republican Party.”
Trump also weighs in on ChatGPT, Melania Trump, the case of a homeless man choked to death on a New York subway and the still-secret files from President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination that he promises to release if he’s elected.
The following is a transcript, edited and annotated for clarity and accuracy:
The Messenger: What surprised you about the CNN town hall and what did you learn from it?
Trump: “I was surprised by the level of hostility. … I thought they would be neutral and even better than that so they could get the viewers back. And they had one of the best [viewership] days in years. So you would think they would claim success. I was amazed to see that they were traumatized by what took place. They were actually traumatized. I think that instead of acting the way they did, they should have said, ‘we had a tremendous ratings night, one of the best in years, many years,’ and spiked the football, right?
The Messenger: Was it a win for you? And if so, how?
Trump: “Well, I don't want to say. But everyone else says it was. ... I've never been so credited with the successes the way I have with this. Everybody — the radical left, fascists, Marxists, communists, and normal people — have said that it was a total complete victory for Trump. .. But CNN has taken tremendous hits. And I'm surprised they don't really say that they had a very big ratings night. Truly surprising to me.”
The Messenger: I understand you've expressed concerns about Fox, and that one of the reasons you went on CNN is you didn't want to kind of limit yourself to Fox. And obviously you're talking to us at The Messenger for our maiden launch, you’re courting social media influencers, you were on the Full Send podcast and you’re talking to others – lots of different media from social media to non-traditional media to mainstream media to new media …
Trump: “Yeah, I'm doing a lot of different media. I was disappointed with Fox. I thought the firing of Tucker [Carlson] was a tremendous mistake. I was very disappointed. And of course, I was disappointed with the coverage of the [2020 presidential] election in particular, the early call in Arizona.”
The Messenger: Can you tell me more about your media strategy. You’re talking to everybody. Why?
Trump: “Well, I'm talking to people that I respect. And CNN very much wanted to do this interview. And I did it and I do other interviews like I'm doing the one for you now … The one thing I find is that if get ratings, they know it, they cover you. Even if they say they’re not going to. They tried not to in 2020. I did much better in 2020 than I did in 2016. And people hate to write that. But I got millions more votes in 2020 than I did in 2016. It was a rigged election. You can quote me on that or you can be afraid to go quote me on that. You know, the media is afraid to talk about that. And that's part of the problem we have with our country. It was a rigged election. Everyone knows that. You can pick out many, many things.”
The Messenger: Let me circle back to that in a minute. I was curious to see if your full-spectrum media blitz is drawing a distinction with DeSantis. He’s largely confined to friendly conservative media, whereas you're out there with everybody.
Trump: “I think the media has said he's doing a terrible job and he doesn't know what he's doing. You know, the media has not been friendly to him. They’re saying that he's a rank amateur. And you know, he started off fine, but then he hasn't done very well. You look at the polls.”
The Messenger: You obviously helped propel DeSantis into the governor's mansion in 2018 by endorsing him in the primary when he was down. Now you've said he's disloyal for running against you for president. At what point did you realize he was going to challenge you? At what point did you think to yourself, in your words, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is being disloyal?’
Trump: “Interesting question, I would say when he wouldn't comment on whether he would run … when he said I had, ‘I have no comment.’ … having no comment means he's going to run.”
The Messenger: Did you pick up the phone or did you have people reach out to like, ‘Hey, what's going on here?’
Trump: “No. I didn’t do that. But if he runs, he runs. But he's very disloyal. He was a dead man walking [in 2018]. He was dead, dead as a doornail. And I revived him. … I’m a loyal person. If that happened to me, I would never run against the guy that did that. He’s got plenty of years left. And I think if he runs, he's gonna lose MAGA votes forever. That's my opinion. And the MAGA votes are almost everything in the Republican Party, far bigger than you think.”
The Messenger: If DeSantis were somehow to prevail in the primary, would you endorse him, or would you would you not?
Trump: “It’s too early to say. So far, I'm not a fan of the way that he's running. First of all, he shouldn't be running right now because he hasn't filed [official paperwork as a candidate]. You understand that. The guy's doing ads. He's acting as a candidate, but he doesn't have to play by the rules because he hasn't filed, which is a total violation. I mean, this guy’s doing interviews as a candidate, but he hasn’t filed, which is really not appropriate.” [Note: an independent political committee is running ads on DeSantis’s behalf, not DeSantis]
The Messenger: DeSantis said this yesterday in Iowa: “We must reject the culture of losing that has affected our party in recent years. The time for excuses is over. If we make the 2024 election, a referendum on Joe Biden, his failures, and if we provide a positive alternative for the future of this country, Republicans will win across the board. If we do not do that, if we get distracted, if we focus the election on the past, than I think that Democrats are going to defeat us again.” What do you think of him trying to define you as being too caught up in the past?
Trump: “First of all, I'm not at all caught up in the past. And second of all, I'm doing much better against Biden than he is in the polls, and I'm doing much better against him. I mean, I'm beating [DeSantis] by 40 points in some polls, so he can talk about what he wants. And third of all, I did very well in the midterms. [My endorsed candidates won] 233 out of 253 races, which nobody wants to report. … Ron's not a winner because Ron without me wouldn't have won. If I would have left it alone, he would have lost by 30 points or more.”
The Messenger: Why do you think he's doing that? Why do you think he's doing badly?
Trump: “He's got no personality. And I don't think he's got a lot of political skill.”
The Messenger: I need to find a way to discuss the 2020 elections without sounding like I'm debating it. There were all the lawsuits that got filed in 2020. Your side didn't prevail in any of the cases. I think your campaign chartered one or two studies. It didn't find massive voter fraud..
Trump: “That’s because they always find an excuse not to listen to the [evidence] .. Like everyone else, judges didn't have the courage to do what they should have done…”
The Messenger: I'm sorry to interrupt but I think your own campaign had done two studies that didn't find widespread systemic voter fraud either…
Trump: “If you look at guys like [former White House adviser] Peter Navarro did reports that were devastating to the election. He did a great report. … That election was so basically fraudulent, that it's impossible for anybody to win the argument but judges didn't want to hear it. The judges didn't hear it. [Note: Navarro’s report was called dubious by Forbes and other outlets]
The Messenger: How about we set aside the debate or the discussion on voter fraud? You are the foremost political expert on branding. Look at what DeSantis is saying, obliquely, and then look at what Joe Biden is doing: He launched his campaign with a video that opened up with images of Jan. 6, and his first ad had these images of Jan. 6. So do you see where discussing this is bad for your brand? Do you see how your opponents see this as a winner for them and as a loser for you?
Trump: “No. Because if you look at the polls, almost 80% in our party think the election was rigged … I feel that history is something that, if you don't learn from it, you're a fool. That doesn't mean that I have to devote half of my speech to 2020, but devoting 2% or 3% or 4% is okay. And I think if I didn't I would actually be rebuked by a large portion of the Republican Party. [Note: recent polling found 63 percent of Republicans believe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected]
The Messenger: Are you the establishment now? Is Donald Trump the establishment of the GOP?
Trump: "No, I'm the person with common sense, and I'm the person that actually has great experience and from a world standpoint, our country was respected. And now we're a laughingstock all over the world."
The Messenger: Is your wife, Melania Trump, going to be involved in your reelection?
Trump: “She's very enthused – very, very enthused about it.”
The Messenger: Abortion is a big issue you talked about in 2022 when you said that Republicans didn't really have the right message. They didn't know how to talk about the issue properly. So what's the right way for a Republican to talk about abortion in the 2024 elections?
Trump: “Well, pretty much what I said in the CNN town hall. ... First of all, I'm a believer in the exceptions, right? And just as Ronald Reagan was a believer in the exceptions, but I'm a believer in the exceptions … the life of the mother, raping and incest. … The other thing I really believe is that the radicals are people that would have a baby destroyed, killed at the end of the ninth month or even after birth.”
The Messenger: Not to be argumentative about this, but do any women really get abortions at eight or nine months if it’s not because of the life or health of the mother?
Trump: “Yeah, probably. You might not know about it.”
The Messenger: It sounds shocking. [Note: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “later in pregnancy abortions” happen rarely and are due to “medical concerns such as fetal anomalies or maternal life endangerment, as well as barriers to care that cause delays in obtaining an abortion.”]
Trump: “I know it’s shocking. But it’s happening. … For 50 years, they've been trying to get rid of Roe v Wade. I was able to do it. Nobody else could have done that but me. And I was able to do it [by nominating] three excellent judges on the Justices of the Supreme Court. And I was able to do that. What it did more than anything else is it gave us a tremendous power of negotiation, which we didn't have, the pro-life movement, a tremendous power of negotiation. ... Now the pro-life movement has the power to negotiate a deal that's acceptable for them.”
The Messenger: DeSantis signed a six-week abortion restriction in Florida. Do you think he was right to do that?
Trump: “Well, he has to do what he has to do. If you look at what DeSantis did, a lot of people don't even know if he knew what he was doing. But he signed six weeks, and many people within the pro-life movement feel that that was too harsh.”
The Messenger: What do you think? Is it too harsh for you?
Trump: “I'm looking at all alternatives. I'm looking at many alternatives. But I was able to get us to the table by terminating Roe v. Wade. That's the most important thing that's ever happened for the pro-life movement.”
The Messenger: Would you sign a six week abortion ban or not?
Trump: “I'm looking at all [options].”
The Messenger: Since I’m told we’re running out of time, have you followed at all this case of the subway death in New York where a bystander choked another man who was allegedly acting in a threatening manner? DeSantis tweeted about fundraising for the suspect; he called the man who has been charged with manslaughter a ‘Good Samaritan.’ Do you agree or disagree?
Trump: “Well, I think he was in great danger and the other people in the car were in great danger. I haven't seen the tape. But I think he was in danger. And it sounded like the other people in the car were in danger. And it also looks like this man [who was killed] was arrested over 40 times and had lots of problems. So I haven't seen the tapes. I won’t make a definitive [statement] but it looks to me like the people in that car were in great danger.”
The Messenger: Have you paid any attention to ChatGPT or artificial intelligence?
Trump: “I've been watching it. Yeah, a very dangerous subject.”
The Messenger: Do you think it should be regulated better?
Trump: “Well, it's a very new subject that's going to be very interesting over the next couple of years. And I'll be very much involved because it's got the potential for great danger to the country and in fact, to the world.”
The Messenger: Did you sign any self-pardons when you left office? There was a debate about that when you left office, but I don’t think you were ever asked it.
Trump: “No I didn’t. Why would I sign a self-pardon when I did nothing wrong?”
The Messenger: Last one for me. I think I think we're at 30 minutes, right. JFK files. You were going to release all of the JFK files as president. But in the end, you didn't. And there was a podcast interview where Judge Andrew Napolitano said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that you told him the public shouldn’t see this information. Is that accurate?
Trump: “I released a lot, as you know. And I will release everything else.”
The Messenger: So there was nothing in there that the public should be scared about or that makes the US look terrible?
Trump: “Well, I don’t want to comment on that. But I will tell you that I have released a lot. I will release the remaining portion very early in my term.”
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