Even if you didn’t watch former president Donald Trump’s verbal combat Wednesday night with CNN town hall moderator Kaitlan Collins, you may have heard about the audience’s reactions to his lie-filled assertions.
Guests inside the venue at Saint Anselm College could be heard cheering and applauding throughout the event, even as Trump made demonstrably false claims about the 2020 election and the classified documents he refused to turn over the National Archives. They seemed unperturbed when he refused to say whether he wanted Ukraine or Russia to win the war.
When the former president called Collins “a nasty person” and mocked writer E. Jean Carroll — who won a civil case against him a day prior, when a jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming her – they laughed.
Collins tried to fact-check Trump in real-time throughout the 70-minute event, and she called on nine audience members to ask questions about the policies and trends that matter to them.
The audience questions came from Republicans and independents, including a retired attorney from North Conway who asked about potential pardons for Capitol riot defendants, a registered nurse from Merrimack who asked about the US Supreme Court’s abortion decision, and three Saint Anselm College students who asked about the national debt, gun control, and US military aid to Ukraine.
What was the process for picking audience members, and who determined which questions would be asked?
New Hampshire GOP Chairman Chris Ager said CNN handled all the selecting of audience members and audience questions. He said he was allotted a few seats to invite attendees, but the people he invited didn’t ask questions during the town hall.
More than a week before the event, the New Hampshire GOP distributed an email with a link to a questionnaire to be filled out by those interested in attending the town hall and submitting questions. The 15-question form asked potential attendees about their party affiliation, who they voted for in the 2020 presidential election, whether they worked or volunteered for a political party within the past decade, and whether they plan to vote in New Hampshire’s GOP presidential primary.
The GOP’s email noted that those selected would be notified by email and receive additional details. It advised recipients to refrain from sharing the information on social media.
When asked about CNN’s process for selecting audience members and questions, a spokesperson said the network “followed its traditional approach to source an appropriate audience” composed of Republican and undeclared voters “who say they plan to vote in the upcoming New Hampshire Republican primary.”
The spokesperson declined to elaborate on what that “traditional approach” entails.
Senior vice president Matt Dornic, who oversees strategic communications for CNN Worldwide, said in a series of tweets Thursday that the town hall attendees included people who had been invited by a variety of organizations and “curated” by the network.
“The audience was curated by CNN through community groups, student politics and government, faith groups, agriculture and education orgs, as well as (Republican) groups,” Dornic wrote. “The school and campaign also invited guests.”