5 takeaways from Trump’s town hall with Sean Hannity

Former President Trump participated in a town hall hosted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Tuesday, a night before the fourth Republican primary debate that the GOP frontrunner is once again skipping.

The former president was asked questions by only Hannity of a variety of topics, from reports that cast his second term as a dictatorship, President Biden’s age and health and Trump’s stances on foreign policy and energy issues before a friendly crowd that largely cheered Trump on when he took the stage.

The event comes just weeks ahead of the Iowa caucus on Jan. 15, 2024, the first in the nation caucuses in the primary calendar and in a state Trump is leading his main GOP rivals by double-digits, according to recent surveys.

Here are five takeaways from Trump’s town hall with Hannity.

Trump answers ‘dictator’ question

In one of Hannity’s early questions of Trump, he asked the former president about media reports from over the weekend that cast a potential second-term as a dictatorship, something Trump’s allies later fired back on.

“They want to call you a dictator,” Hannity said referring to the media reports. “To be clear, do you in any way have any plans whatsoever, if reelected president, to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?”

“You mean like they’re using right now,” Trump initially responded, before pivoting to speaking about the criminal indictments he faces.

Hannity again revisited the question just before a commercial break, asking: “[U]nder no circumstances. You are promising America tonight. You would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“Except for day one,” Trump responded.

“Except, what? Hannity asked, before Trump said “He’s going crazy. Except for day one.”

“Meaning?” Hannity asked.

“I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill,” Trump responded.

“That’s not retribution,” Hannity said.

“I love this guy, he says, ‘you’re not going to be a dictator are you?’ I said no, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator,” Trump said to the Fox News host.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and President Biden’s reelection campaign quickly seized on the comments, with the campaign sharing a video of the remarks and the DNC sharing the video with the caption “And there you have it.” The Biden campaign also blasted out an email to its supports right after the town hall wrapped with the subject line: “Donald Trump: Day One Dictator.”

Trump swipes at Biden’s ‘cognitive state’

Trump bashed Biden after being asked about the current president’s “cognitive state” amid concerns about the president’s age and health as he runs for reelection for another four years. 

Trump initially responded that it’s “not for me to say,” but went on to suggest that Biden “doesn’t know he’s alive” and contended he doesn’t think the president can “physically” make it through another term. 

“Nuclear weapons are the biggest problem we have. And we have a man that can’t put two sentences together. We have a man that doesn’t know he’s alive. And he’s backed up by the media,” the former president added. 

At 81, Biden is the oldest sitting president in the country’s history, and would be 86 at the end of a second term — which has prompted concerns about his health and whether he’s too old for reelection.

Trump is just a few years younger, at 77.

Hannity noted Biden criticism from some Democrats — including from former President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, who recently suggested Biden drop out of the 2024 race — and asked Trump whether he thinks the incumbent will be the Democrats’ nominee in 2024.

“I personally don’t think he makes it. I haven’t said that, I’ve been saving it for this big town hall,” Trump said, adding that he thinks Biden is in “bad shape physically” and joking that if he blew on Biden, the president would fall over.

“I personally don’t think he makes it physically,” Trump said. “Mentally, I would say he’s equally as bad and maybe worse.”

Trump likens himself to Al Capone

The former president likened himself to infamous gangster Al Capone in talking about the slew of criminal indictments he faces both on the federal and state levels involving the potential mishandling of classified documents and election interference.

“I’ve often said, Al Capone, he was one of the greatest of all time, if you like criminals. He was a mob boss, the likes of which — Scarface, they call him. And he got indicted once. I got indicted four times,” Trump said to laughter from the crowd. “I wonder what my father and mother would say looking down.”

Trump has previously said he’s been indicted more than Capone, including in a speech last month in Iowa. The former president has criminal indictments in four separate cases, making him the first former or current president to ever be indicted for an alleged crime.

He has pleaded not guilty to all 91 charges he faces. His legal troubles have so far only widened his massive lead in the Republican primary ahead of his opponents.

The indictments  involve the potential mishandling of classified documents, some of which were taken as part of an FBI search of his Florida estate in Mar-a-Lago, his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, a federal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, and falsifying business records in a hush money case in New York.

Energy, foreign policy at forefront

Energy and foreign policy were at the forefront as Trump talked about his priorities and actions he’d take during a second term in the Oval Office. 

Responding to Hannity’s questions about whether he’d act as a “dictator” or “abuse power as retribution” during another presidential term, Trump said he’d do so only on day one — to close the border and to drill for oil.

“We will close the border. Day one: the border gets closed. Day one and a half: we drill,” Trump said. “And probably on day two we will get rid of this ridiculous electric car mandate.”

On energy, he also claimed that U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is laughed at by people “all over the world” as he pushes to get rid of coal plants.

Kerry said this week that “there shouldn’t be any more coal power plants permitted anywhere in the world,” sounding alarms about the connections between the climate crisis and health problems. 

“Our country can be rich again. John Kerry has to be stopped. He is destroying our country, this guy,” Trump told Hannity. “He goes all over the world talking to these people about getting rid of coal plants. They all laugh at him.”

And on foreign policy, Trump stressed concerns about the southern border and touted the controversial travel ban that went into effect during his administration, targeting several Muslim-majority countries.

“Remember, I had the travel ban. I said ‘I don’t want people coming from countries that want to blow us up.’ And we put a travel ban and some people thought I was discriminating, but think about it. I went four years with no problem,” Trump said.

“We didn’t have buildings being knocked down. We didn’t have World Trade Centers,” he added, in apparent reference to the 9/11 terror attacks in New York City.

‘Blitzing’ Iowa

Trump expressed confidence going into the Iowa caucus next month, saying he had two big victories there the last two times he ran in 2016 and 2020 and expects to win by even more in 2024.

He also said he plans to spend the weeks leading up to the caucus “blitzing” Iowa.

“I love you very much. You’ve been so incredible to me. I’m gonna be around for the next, you know, five weeks now. And we’ll be coming here a little bit and then the last couple of weeks we’ll be blitzing because we don’t want to take—we’re up I guess by like 30 or 40 points, but we’re not taking any chances. We don’t want to take any chances,” Trump said.

Polls have consistently shown Trump leading his rivals by more than 20 percentage points in Iowa and his lead in national polls is even greater.

The former president also touted that he fought to keep Iowa caucuses first in the nation after the Democrats opted to put South Carolina first in 2024, in a move pushed by Biden.

“Iowa represents this country more than any place and it also represents tradition. When you think of Iowa you think of farms and politics. And we’re going to keep it that way, okay?” Trump said as part of his final remarks.

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Biden primary challengers to appear in televised event after GOP debate 

2024 Democratic presidential candidates Marianne Williamson, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Cenk Uygur will appear together on progressive news network The Young Turks (TYT) Wednesday night in response to the 4th GOP debate taking place in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The network, which has over 5.6 million YouTube subscribers, said it would give the three candidates “a platform to speak about their agenda, policy positions and respond to the GOP debate in this unique coverage format.” 

The program will start right after the GOP debate is scheduled to end, at 10 p.m. EST. 

The event is scheduled to last for an hour-and-half, and will be hosted by TYT anchor John Iadarola, a left-wing pundit who cohosts both the network’s main show and his own program, “The Damage Report.”

“Upholding democracy is part of TYT’s values, and this coverage format is in response to the Democratic establishment not doing anything to ensure that primary candidates are heard,” the network wrote in a press release released Tuesday. “Instead, the party is promoting an unhealthy primary. TYT will take this opportunity to inform voters of their choices and give the megaphone to the primary candidates.”

The Florida Democratic Party left all three candidates off its primary ballot. The state Democratic Party’s executive committee voted Oct. 29 to only include Biden on the ballot, a move that prompted all three White House hopefuls to consider legally challenging the decision. 

Cenk Uygur, TYT’s founder and CEO, who is running in the Democratic primary, says the three candidates “are on the same mission.” Uygur, unlike, Williamson and Phillips, has to battle for ballot access in various states due to his status as a naturalized citizen born in Istanbul, Turkey. Uygur, who previously gained ballot access in Arkansas, won’t appear on its ballot next year, according to The Associated Press . He hopes to adjudicate the issue of his qualifications through the courts. 

“Find the best candidate to beat Donald Trump,” Uygur told The Hill, when asked about the post-debate event. “Since we’re all convinced that Joe Biden is almost certainly going to lose, we’re trying very hard to give people an alternative. The TYT event is a forum to highlight our differences with the Republicans. We’re all motivated to make sure the Republican Party loses this election, and I wish Joe Biden would try anywhere near as hard as us.” 

The two-hour GOP debate, featuring former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will air Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on NewsNation. NewsNation anchor Elizabeth Vargas, The Washington Free Beacon Editor-in-Chief Eliana Johnson and former Fox News and NBC host Megyn Kelly will moderate. 

Former President Donald Trump, the current GOP primary frontrunner who skipped the previous three debates, will instead attend a private fundraiser in Florida. 

Phillips and Williamson’s campaigns did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Nexstar Media Group owns both NewsNation and The Hill.

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Biden ‘not sure’ he’d run in 2024 if Trump wasn’t in the race: ‘We cannot let him win’

President Biden on Tuesday said if former President Trump wasn’t running for another term in 2024, he’s “not sure” if he would have also embarked on his own reelection campaign. 

“If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running. But we cannot let him win,” Biden said at a campaign reception in Weston, Mass.

Biden’s comment came after he laid out in stark terms the threat he believes Trump poses to democracy, citing Trump’s remarks in which he compared his political enemies to vermin , recent reports that he’d use the Insurrection Act to implement policy changes, and a December 2022 social media post in which Trump suggested he would terminate parts of the Constitution

Biden was speaking to a group of big donors while on a fundraising swing in the Boston-area on Tuesday. Trump is set to participate in a pre-taped town hall later on Tuesday with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Trump announced his candidacy for president in November 2022, following the midterm elections. Biden announced he would run for reelection in April of this year, following months of speculation over whether he should run again, largely due to his age.

Biden, 81, has trailed Trump in some recent polls, most notably in several key swing states he needs to win in order to secure the general election. But, Biden aides have repeatedly dismissed the fixation on polling, arguing it was not predictive of Biden’s success in 2020 and that it’s too soon to be predictive of his fate a year from now.

Meanwhile, in recent days, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and The New York Times each published stories referencing what they dubbed a “Trump dictatorship,” arguing a second Trump presidency posed a threat to democracy. Trump allies have pushed back on the blaring warnings.

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Former Green Beret announces run for Rep. Patrick McHenry’s seat

Republican Pat Harrigan, a businessman and former Green Beret, announced on Tuesday that he’ll run for Rep. Patrick McHenry’s (R-N.C.) seat, after the former Speaker pro tempore announced he’ll retire at the end of this term. 

“Following Congressman McHenrys retirement, I’m running for Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District,” Harrigan said in a video on X , the platform formerly known as Twitter, just after news broke that McHenry would not run for reelection in 2024.

It’s his second cycle trying for the U.S. House after he ran last year for the state’s 14th District, which was eventually won by Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson.

“Faced with President Biden’s disastrous policies at home and abroad, our country needs experienced, battle-tested leadership,” Harrigan said in another post .  “I’m ready to step up in Congress to lead the charge for a better, stronger America.”

He had originally planned on running against North Carolina state Rep. Tom Moore (R) in the state’s 14th District next year, according to Axios , but now sets his sights on Washington. Jackson is now running for attorney general , after the state’s maps were redrawn , favoring Republicans. 

Harrigan said in his launch video that “God has placed a calling on our lives to enter the political arena,” and contended that the calling “has come at a cost,” referencing an incident last year in which shots were fired at his home in Hickory, N.C. 

McHenry, who served as Speaker pro tempore after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was ousted earlier this year, announced on Tuesday that he’ll retire after nearly two decades in Congress. 

“This is not a decision I come to lightly,” he said, “but I believe there is a season for everything and—for me—this season has come to an end.”

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Elizabeth Vargas: ‘Elephant in the room’ Trump won’t be ignored at NewsNation debate

Elizabeth Vargas says whether he’s there or not, Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate on NewsNation isn’t going to pretend former President Trump doesn’t exist.

“We are not going to ignore the elephant in the room,” the “Elizabeth Vargas Reports” host and co-moderator of the fourth 2024 primary debate told ITK. 

“One of the debates, they waited an hour to acknowledge his existence,” Vargas said.

The 45th president, who’s leading the Republican primary field, Vargas said, is “the No. 1 target” for all of the GOP White House hopefuls. 

“We intend to ask several pointed questions about Donald Trump, and his policies, and his plans and give the candidates an opportunity to compare and contrast themselves to the person they most need to beat at this point in the race,” she said.

Trump has signaled  that he won’t attend the debate being held at the University of Alabama. He’s poised to participate in a Fox News town hall on Tuesday hosted by Sean Hannity.

Vargas, who’s moderating the mid-week debate alongside conservative pundit Megyn Kelly and The Washington Free Beacon’s Eliana Johnson, said in addition to asking about Trump, she’s also aiming to get candidates to toss their “canned campaign speeches.”

“We are dedicated and working hard to make this the smartest debate we can — to pin down these candidates on some of the issues that I think that they have largely glided over in the first few debates and on the campaign trail. We want to get some specificity,” the former ABC News anchor said.

Some topics Vargas said she’s hoping to address include violence in the Middle East, Ukraine funding, crime, fentanyl and U.S. border security and immigration.

“The debate’s happening in Alabama, which is a big military state. I’m an Army brat myself, so I’m hoping to get in a question about the state of the U.S. military,” she said.

It’s the first presidential debate to air on NewsNation, which like The Hill is owned by Nexstar Media Group. 

“I think our growing visibility will be exponentially bigger on debate night,” Vargas said of the network, which she joined earlier this year.

“We have lots of cable news networks catering to the far fringes — the extremes of both the left and the right — and not as many who are just trying to talk to the moderate middle. So I think this is a tremendous opportunity for us and we couldn’t be more excited.”

The Emmy Award-winning journalist said she and the debate team have been spending weeks “studying, reading and watching everything” to prep for the event and come up with questions for the Oval Office contenders, who include Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.

“There’s a lot of toing and froing and disagreement, as there should be. It’s all fine, and we will figure out the very best questions and probably be rearranging them, and swapping them in and out right until the moment of the debate,” she said.

On a personal level, Vargas said the best thing she can do for herself ahead of debate night is to “get a good night’s sleep.”

But with so much intense focus on the Republican showdown, even catching some zzz’s sometimes means dreaming of the debate.

“When you wake up at 2 a.m. thinking, ‘Wait, we should ask DeSantis this?’ it’s definitely taken over a lot,” Vargas said with a laugh.

“But in a good way.”

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