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EDITORIAL: Trump makes a spectacle of town hall meeting

It’s fitting that just weeks after the death of the man who ran reality TV into the ground, the man who rode it all the way to the White House was again making a spectacle on national television.

Somewhere Jerry Springer is having a good laugh — or cry, take your pick.

On Wednesday, CNN held a town hall meeting with Donald Trump. It went precisely how one might have expected. Decorum is not part of the former president’s repertoire. Mr. Trump continued to insist that the 2020 election was rigged. He bad-mouthed the woman who had just won a $5 million civil judgment against him. He talked over the moderator. He said he may pardon the Jan. 6 rioters if he is elected once again.

In short, Mr. Trump played fast and loose with the facts, took a typically aggressive tone and made a spectacle of the whole affair. His message: He’s not going to apologize for anything and will continue to stick his thumb in the establishment’s eye. That is, after all, why his most devout supporters embrace him so unconditionally.

Afterward, critics on the left slammed the network for airing the event at all. They are misguided. Mr. Trump is the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. He is a former occupant of the Oval Office. Should media outlets suppress Mr. Trump’s voice simply because many progressives abhor his existence? That’s ludicrous. American voters deserve to hear what he has to say.

It’s even more ridiculous when the centerpiece of the cynical Democratic election strategy is apparently to pray to the heavens that Mr. Trump is again at the top of the Republican ticket. What are the odds that President Joe Biden would have even announced a re-election bid if he didn’t think his opponent would be the baggage-laden Mr. Trump, particularly after GOP candidates tied to the former president tanked in the midterms?

But Democrats have underestimated Mr. Trump before and they could very well mistakenly laugh him off again. Mr. Biden is putting together a first term reminiscent of Jimmy Carter. Spending is out of control. Inflation hit 40-year highs. The border is a mess. Gasoline prices remain near $5 a gallon in Nevada and elsewhere. U.S. energy policy is a mass of contradiction and incoherence. Crime is again a problem, particularly in large cities. A candidate who optimistically makes the case for positive change, fiscal sanity, economic growth and prosperity will resonate with voters, many of whom believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

Whether Mr. Trump can shift to such a message remains unclear. He doesn’t seem interested in expanding his base of support to recapture the moderates and independents who gave him a chance in 2016. Many are suffering from Trump fatigue and aren’t eager to hear the former president complaining about past grievances, real and imagined. Dwelling on 2020 and vowing “retribution” isn’t much of a campaign strategy.

Despite rabid opposition at every turn, Mr. Trump can point to numerous accomplishments during his four years in the White House, including judicial appointments, tax reform, regulatory relief and a robust economy. All of that might sound pretty good right now with a recession on the horizon and an aging incumbent with a dismal record of achievement who appears increasingly challenged by the day-to-day rigors of his job.

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