Concord man gets first question as NH voters get national airtime with Trump town hall

  • Former president Donald Trump takes a question from Concord resident Scott Dustin during a live, televised town hall-style event hosted by CNN and moderated by Kaitlan Collins at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown. CNN

  • Concord resident Scott Dustin asks former president Donald Trump a question during Wednesday's Town Hall event hosted by CNN at Saint Anselm College. —Courtesy CNN

  • CNN's Gary Tuchman speaks with New Hampshire voters following the CNN Republican presidential town hall with former President Donald Trump. —Courtesy CNN

Monitor staff
Published: 5/11/2023 6:28:59 PM

When most voters think of what makes the first-in-the-nation primary special in the Granite State, three words often come to mind – living room conversations.

Intimate conversations with candidates in cramped spaces where microphones are often unnecessary are the hallmarks of presidential campaigns in New Hampshire.

For Scott Dustin, a Concord resident, Wednesday brought the chance to ask former President Donald Trump a question on the campaign trail. Dustin, who is an independent voter, traded a cozy living room for CNN’s Republican Primary Town Hall at Saint Anselm College, with bright lights and a national audience.

Dustin read his question into the microphone.

“Will you suspend polarizing talk of election fraud during your run for president?”

The answer was yes. But also no.

Trump said he would stop talking about election fraud when he no longer sees it. And clearly, his claims of widespread fraud in 2020 – which have been rebuked in over 60 failed lawsuits challenging the results – still warrant conversation in Trump’s eyes.

“If I see election fraud, I have an obligation to say it. What we went through a short while ago has really put our country in a big problem,” he said.

Dustin was one of nine audience members to ask the former president a question.

To accompany the conversation between moderator Kaitlan Collins and Trump, CNN filled the crowd with Republican and independent voters, who are likely to participate in Republican primary, according to Matt Dornic, a senior vice president for the network.

“The audience was curated by CNN through community groups, student politics and government, faith groups, agriculture and education orgs, as well as [Republican] groups,” he wrote on Twitter. “The school and campaign also invited guests.”

When Collins asked Trump about a recent ruling from a Manhattan federal jury that found him liable of sexual abuse and defamation charges from writer E. Jean Carroll – the crowd laughed.

When Trump claimed former vice president Mike Pence, who said he feared for his life on January 6, was actually the one at fault, they applauded.

And when he said the 2020 election was “a horrible election,” with false evidence of fraud – more laughter, with applause on top.

Trump was clearly playing to a friendly crowd Wednesday night. Applause erupted at a moment’s notice. Answers about serious legal troubles – from the defamation suit to false business records – were punctuated by roars of laughter.

And at the end of the night, Trump had a clear message for the crowd – “I like you guys.”

But for some audience members, the 70-minute spectacle wasn’t enough to cement a vote in favor of the former President.

After the town hall, CNN selected a handful of audience members, most of whom voted for Trump in 2020 – excluding an 18-year-old who was too young to do so, and another member who abstained from voting – to ask them their thoughts on the former president’s performance.

The 2020 election? Time to move on. Trump’s recent charges from E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit? They paid little attention.

But when Gary Tuchman, CNN reporter, asked them the golden question – if they were ready to vote for Trump in 2024, only one out of the eight voters, shot their hand up.

Despite this, Trump’s performance in the town hall further cemented his lead among the state’s GOP, according to CNN correspondent John King.

“That is an honest reflection of Republican beliefs in New Hampshire. He is by far and away the Republican front runner,” King, the network’s chief national correspondent, said after the town hall.

For Governor Chris Sununu, who is also eyeing his own 2024 presidential run, Trump’s appearance had less to do with captivating new New Hampshire voters, and instead was a classic draw from his playbook – and one that won’t energize those on the fringe, like suburban moms and independent voters, he said.

“It was the same old regurgitation,” he said. “He had a chance to move on from 2020, he didn’t do it. He had a chance to own some of the issues with January 6… he didn’t do it. He had a chance to take shots at Joe Biden, he didn’t do it.”


MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Michaela Towfighi is a Report for America corps member covering the Two New Hampshires for the Monitor. She graduated from Duke University with a degree in public policy and journalism and media studies in 2022. At Duke she covered education, COVID-19, the 2020 election and helped edit stories about the Durham County Courthouse for The 9th Street Journal and the triangle area's alt-weekly Indy Week. Her story about a family grappling with a delayed trial for a fatal car accident in Concord won first place in Duke’s Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Towfighi is an American expat who calls London, England, home despite being born in Boston.

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