Donald Trump has decided to consort with the enemy.
The ex-president will participate in a town hall event with CNN, a network he called “fake” and whose reporters he routinely chastised while serving in office. The event, which will take place at New Hampshire’s Saint Anselm College next week, will mark a major moment in the intersection of politics and the media in the still nascent 2024 GOP primary. It also is the latest illustration of an aggressive media strategy that Trump’s team is adopting.
The former president and his staff have re-engaged the mainstream press corps after largely shunning them. They have been in talks with sit-downs with several other notable outlets, including NBC. He has also invited an array of reporters from mainstream outlets to fly with him on his plane to and from campaign events.
Those in the former president’s orbit believe that by giving interviews and access to mainstream outlets, they can broaden Trump’s message — and create a contrast with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has widely been seen as more closed off toward mainstream outlets while granting interviews to conservative ones.
But the decision to participate in the town hall is also an implicit rebuke of Fox News. While Trump had long been close with the conservative-leaning network, he has complained of late that the organization has turned against him. Those close to the former president privately contend that Fox News — and other outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch — have been favorable toward DeSantis.
In mid-April, the Republican National Committee announced that Fox would host the first debate. Shortly after that, Trump announced on his social media platform that he had not given his “approval” for it and suggested he would not participate in a forum hosted by “angry, TRUMP & MAGA hating anchors.”
A week later, CNN announced it would host a town hall with Trump. The town hall will be moderated by Kaitlan Collins, who built a reputation as a tough questioner of Trump while covering him as the network’s White House correspondent.
A person familiar with the discussions said CNN approached the Trump campaign several months ago, and talks between the two sides continued on until Monday, when the plans were locked down. The former president has largely forsworn participating in any mainstream media interviews since leaving the presidency. And CNN, in particular, has been on the receiving end of Trump’s vitriol.
The town hall marks a quick return to New Hampshire for Trump, who filled a downtown Manchester ballroom late last week in a rollicking rally in which he largely ignored his deepening legal troubles and took shots at a number of his potential rivals including DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and “nasty guy” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. A mid-April University of New Hampshire poll showed Trump leading DeSantis by 20 points and Sununu by 30 points.
Lisa Kashinsky and Meridith McGraw contributed reporting