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Why CNN's Trump town hall was always doomed to fail

But truly, what did CNN or Kaitlan Collins think would happen?

“They learned nothing and forgot nothing.”

Those famous words have been attributed to the 19th century French diplomat Talleyrand, supposedly in reference to the Bourbon dynasty that replaced Napoleon.

But he could have been referring to CNN in the age of Donald Trump.

Seven years on from that car-crash coverage, CNN offered the twice-impeached and newly indicted ex-president another live prime-time platform.

Looking back on the 2016 election, the network’s former chief Jeff Zucker admitted that it was a “mistake” for CNN to have run Trump rallies, live and uninterrupted, and to have allowed him to “say outrageous things, or say things that weren’t true.”

Yet Wednesday night, seven years on from that car-crash coverage, CNN and CEO Chris Licht offered the twice-impeached and newly indicted ex-president, who was also found liable of defamation and sexual abuse just this week, another live prime-time platform to once again “​​say outrageous things, or say things that weren’t true.” 

Worse, the network put its star anchor and interviewer Kaitlan Collins in a room full of Trump supporters, who laughed at their cult leader’s crass jokes and applauded his cheap insults — including jabs at Collins herself. (By my count, seven of the nine audience questions came from people who supported Trump’s 2020 re-election bid!)

The former president, as I point out in my book “Win Every Argument: The Art of Debating, Persuading and Public Speaking,” is a master of the “Gish Gallop”; he specializes in overwhelming interviewers with a “relentless barrage of falsehoods” and drowning them “in a deluge of distortions, deflections, and distractions.”

So CNN, with this ridiculous town hall format and an audience seemingly recruited “from the Mar-a-Lago parking lot,” put its own anchor in a position to fail. The only way Collins really could have even semi-succeeded would have been if she had ignored the audience and the format entirely and instead tried to pin Trump down on each and every one of his false and offensive statements. 

Of course, the CNN anchor didn’t — couldn’t! — do that. But format aside, she didn’t do herself any favors, either.

When Trump falsely denied he had suggested “terminating” parts of the Constitution, Collins didn’t correct him.

When Trump falsely claimed Democrats wanted to execute babies, Collins didn’t correct him. 

When Trump falsely claimed he finished building his border wall, Collins tried to correct him — but he just talked over her. 

And when Trump made a racist remark about Chinatown, Collins said nothing whatsoever. Nor did she defend herself when he called her a “nasty person.”

As predicted, this was a clear win for Trump. He felt no pressure and conceded nothing.

Sorry, but — as predicted — this was a clear win for Trump. He felt no pressure and conceded nothing. He was welcomed onto CNN to address an audience of non-Republicans watching at home and an audience of loyal Republicans sitting in that hall in New Hampshire. Win-win. 

So what did CNN or Collins think would happen? Did they really have no plan to deal with Trump’s belligerent nonsense? Did they really learn nothing and forget nothing? 

Perhaps the most revealing — and depressing moment — of the entire show came when a flailing Collins tried, once again, to interrupt Trump’s Gish Gallop on the “rigged” 2020 election.

“The election was not rigged, Mr. President,” she said, with some desperation in her voice. “You can’t keep saying that all night long.”

Actually … he could. He did. And CNN helped him do it.