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During a CNN town hall, Trump repeated false claims about the 2020 election


Former President Trump appeared on a CNN town hall event last evening. The presidential candidate repeated his claims about the election he lost in 2020. He said he would pardon a large portion of people who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Our analyst Domenico Montanaro writes at npr.org that he lashed out at E. Jean Carroll, the woman who just won a defamation suit against him. Trump even re-endorsed his famous Access Hollywood tape, in which he said of grabbing women, quote, "when you're a star, they let you do it." When it was over, President Biden asked on Twitter, do you want four more years of that? Sarah Longwell joins us next. She is a Republican strategist and founder of the Republican Accountability Project. Welcome.

SARAH LONGWELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: We'll just note for people that you're no fan of Donald Trump. But you know Republican voters. You regularly listen to them in focus groups, small groups of people in a room. Did the former president do himself any favors last night?

LONGWELL: He probably didn't do himself favors with any swing voters, but he continues to cement his place as the frontrunner in the GOP primary. The thing that jumped out at me last night was the audience. The audience was clapping and cheering, even at parts that felt deeply horrible and inappropriate, like when he was attacking E. Jean Carroll. But it was a reminder, I think, for people. And I know people are angry about that performance last night. But it's a reminder that a lot of these voters in Republican primaries are still very much on board with the former president, despite all his baggage. And I hear that from two-time Trump voters in these focus groups all the time, which is that, you know, no matter what he's done, they still have this deep relationship with him. And they're still interested in seeing him run again.

INSKEEP: He got me thinking last night about the difference between fact and narrative. If you talk about individual facts, Trump lost all of his cases in the 2020 election. There's no evidence that's emerged of any kind of any credibility whatsoever about widespread fraud. But he's got this narrative that I was robbed. They're out to get me. Is that narrative what resonates with these two-time Trump voters that you're describing?

LONGWELL: That's right. You know, Trump tells them a story that they're willing to believe. I mean, one of the things that is striking to me is that Trump's 2024 rivals, people like Ron DeSantis - they're making an argument about electability. They're more electable than Trump. And the problem with that argument is that 70% of the Republican Party believes that Donald Trump won the last election. And one of the things - because Donald Trump is able to sort of say things in this way where he repeats them over and over again, and then the right-wing kind of infotainment media becomes this megaphone for it, when I listen to the voters, what I hear them do is they say Donald Trump's words right back to you.

You know, after he was indicted and he would say, you know, if they can do this to me, they can do this to you - and voters in the focus groups would say that. You'd say, well, what do you think about Trump getting indicted? And they say, well, it really makes me afraid, because if they can do it to Donald Trump, they can do it to me. And so this is where Donald Trump is able to create almost his own reality. I mean, that's what was happening last night. It was Kaitlan Collins trying to confront him with facts and Donald Trump weaving an entirely alternate reality that a lot of his supporters are on board with because they live in that world. They live in that reality.

INSKEEP: I find this very interesting because we also have this image of the relatively sophisticated Trump voter who says, I understand that he says so many things that are fake, that are false. I don't believe them all. But I believe in particular policies that he pursues. I believe in fighting against the enemies that he has. You're telling me, no. When you go into these regular focus groups with two-time Trump voters, you find a lot of people who see the world as he does.

LONGWELL: Yeah. I mean, one of the things I try to always explain to people is that, you know, every sort of Trump primary voter is not the same. Like, right now there is a chunk of the Republican Party that wants to move on from Trump. They are interested in an alternative candidate. They understand that Trump has, maybe, too much baggage to be electable, that he's problematic for a variety of ways. And those people often have been sort of DeSantis-curious. But then there's this other chunk of the party. I tend to call them Always Trumpers. And those are people for whom Trump has become their entire locus of politics. And so everybody doesn't always view things the same, but the sort of end result of accepting Trump as the GOP nominee and the only person who will fight hard for their values, they all kind of arrive at that same conclusion.

INSKEEP: Sarah Longwell, thanks very much. Really appreciate your insights.

LONGWELL: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: She is a Republican strategist and the founder of the Republican Accountability Project. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.