Within an hour of the conclusion of Wednesday’s live CNN town hall with Donald Trump, Team Biden tweeted out the elements of an attack ad in the making: Trump's praise of the Jan. 6 insurrection as a "beautiful day" set against raw footage of violent clashes between police in riot gear and a mob of rioters beating and bear-spraying them.
As nauseating as Trump's hour-long bloviation was to watch, it was also electoral gold for Democrats, as Team Biden's quick turnaround shows. Trump's delusional lies, chest-thumping, and pervasive misogyny were like a “greatest hits” of ballot box losers for Republicans.
Trump repeatedly insisted, for instance, that 2020 was a "rigged election"—an assertion he backed up with absolutely laughable conspiracy theories.
"If you look at what happened in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia," Trump offered, "if you look at what happened in Detroit, Michigan, if you look at what happened in Atlanta, millions of votes, and all you have to do is take a look at government cameras. You will see them, people going to 28 different voting booths to vote, to put in seven ballots apiece. I mean, and they’re all on camera."
Keep talkin', Trump, because here's a newsflash: Roughly two-thirds of Americans think your election lies are wack, and those lies are perennial losers at the polls. In the 2022 midterms, in the five critically important Trump-to-Biden states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), Trump's election denier endorsees for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state all uniformly flopped.
This fact has not been lost on the saner elements of the Republican Party. Speaking at the Republican National Committee's annual retreat last month, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp warned the well-heeled attendees that "not a single swing voter" would vote for a Republican nominee in 2024 who’s fixated on the "ancient history" of 2020. Kemp didn't name Trump, but he didn't have to.
Another winner Trump brought up was the swell idea of pardoning "a large portion" of the Jan. 6 convicts.
"They’ve persecuted these people," Trump said. "Many of them are just great people," Trump added, reprising his 2017 remarks about the tiki torch marchers in Charlottesville being "very fine people."
Well, guess what? The violent insurrectionists who turned the U.S. Capitol into a war zone don't exactly engender a lot of empathy from voters. Go figure. Politico/Morning Consult polling conducted last year—shortly after the RNC called the deadly Capitol attack "legitimate political discourse"—found that 68% of registered voters opposed pardoning the Jan. 6 rioters, including 81% of Democrats, 70% of independents, and 54% of Republicans.
Just 20%—20%—said the insurrectionists should definitely or probably be pardoned. Trump has now successfully cornered the market on what is damn close to a 20/80 issue for him. Genius.
Multiple polls early last year showed that while many voters wanted to move on from Jan. 6, they had little to no empathy for the mob. And much of that polling was conducted before the Jan. 6 panel's hearings gripped the nation with new evidence that drew a direct connection between Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the MAGA assault on the U.S. seat of government.
Another Trump town hall answer that was rich with attack-ad fodder was the question of whether he would sign a federal abortion ban. CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins tried unsuccessfully but valiantly—with a handful of direct follow-up questions—to pin him down on the question, and the more Trump dodged, the more he shot himself in the foot with general election voters.
Trump bragged about packing the court with forced birther radicals: "I’m so proud of it. We put three great justices on the Supreme Court."
Just imagine the sound of Trump saying "I'm proud of it" running over horrific headlines about patients dying or being forced to carry dead fetuses to term or hospitals closing their OB/GYN wards. The unthinkable tragedies Republicans have already forced on the nation just keep coming and there's Trump: proud.
"I am honored to have done what I did," Trump said.
Regarding the specifics of a federal abortion ban, forget 20 weeks or the 15 weeks the forced-birther group Susan B. Anthony List thinks is just palatable enough to jam down the throats of American voters until Republicans have the power to pass an all-out ban (no weeks, no exceptions).
"Some people are at six weeks; some people are at three weeks, two weeks," Trump offered. Oh, three weeks? Two weeks? That's news to voters.
"The fact that I was able to terminate Roe v. Wade," Trump said, "I’ve never seen anything like it."
True enough. Americans also hadn't seen anything like the horrors Trump and Republicans unleashed on pregnant folks, doctors, and families across the country.
"I was so honored to have done it," Trump repeated.
Needless to say, polling support for a national abortion ban is abysmal. Last year, just one month before Election Day, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced a 15-week national abortion ban—and his GOP congressional counterparts scattered like pigeons from it.
RELATED STORY: Abortion poised to expand the map for Democrats
This month's Daily Kos/Civiqs deep dive on abortion found just 8% support for making abortion illegal in all cases. In a separate question, just 26% said they "personally believe having an abortion is wrong and should be illegal." So even among that deeply conservative cohort, most of them oppose making abortion illegal in all cases, which is exactly what Trump’s two- or three-week or even six-week abortion ban effectively does.
Let's just put it this way: Republicans will spend the entire general election twisting themselves in knots to dodge abortion ban discussions, but Trump's "proud" of what he did and "honored" to have done it.
That's great for Trump in the Republican primary, but a killer for him in the general election. It's a pattern we have witnessed over and over again since Trump took control of the Republican Party: All the bravado and cruelty and incompetence that so endears him to the MAGA base is absolutely toxic in a general election.
In that sense, the CNN town hall was a wellspring of Democratic opportunity.
The data is in: Americans don’t like Republican policies on abortion. Kerry is joined by Drew Linzer, the director and co-founder of the well-regarded polling company Civiqs. Drew and Kerry do a deep dive into the polling around abortion and reproductive rights and the big problems conservative candidates face in the coming elections.