By Janice Hisle
Former President Donald Trump defied the Republican National Committee by not participating in the first presidential debate on Wednesday and instead opted for a wide-ranging pre-recorded interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
In the interview, which was broadcast simultaneously with the GOP debate, President Trump spoke of the challenges he faced as president and now as a candidate, as well as what his priorities would be if elected again.
Trump who ran as an outsider in 2016 proved in his interview with Tucker that he remains a Washington outsider, questioning the powers of the federal bureaucracy and vowing to challenge orthodoxies when it comes to things such as environmental regulations, foreign policy, the economy, and election integrity.
Mr. Carlson asked, twice, whether President Trump thinks that he might be the target of an assassination attempt, considering that nothing else has succeeded in defeating him.
Attempts to impeach President Trump failed twice during his presidency, 2017-21; in recent months, his popularity among Republican voters has only escalated in the wake of four criminal indictments as he seeks to become his party’s nominee for a third time in the 2024 election.
“They can indict you 20 times, and you’re not going to lose the Republican primary,” Mr. Carlson said.
President Trump replied: “It makes it look even more ridiculous, the four indictments. Maybe there’ll be more; I don’t know. These people are crazy.”
The former president sidestepped the assassination question, but said that the people who are out to get him are “savage animals.”
The prospect of an assassination attempt is particularly raw now, considering that in Ecuador, libertarian candidate Fernando Villavicencio, was killed earlier this. month. In addition, the son of a slain U.S. politician, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is seeking to unseat the Democrat U.S. president, Joe Biden.
Meanwhile, considering deep political divides over various issues, including whether the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump and wrongfully awarded to President Joe Biden, Mr. Carlson asked whether the nation might be headed toward “open conflict,” or a second Civil War. “We seem to be moving toward something,” Mr. Carlson said.
President Trump didn’t directly answer that question, either. But he conceded: “There’s a level of passion that I’ve never seen. There’s a level of hatred that I’ve never seen. That’s probably a bad combination.”
President Trump decided to skip the debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, saying he saw no benefit to participating. He is the runaway frontrunner with a huge lead over his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Carlson-Trump program tallied almost 75 million views within an hour after it was posted, drawing some 22,500 comments and 256,000 likes.
Here are other takeaways:
In the interview, President Trump reiterated his view that the 2020 election was stolen, and when asked by Mr. Carlson whether he believed it would be stolen again in 2024, the former president said there would be attempts to do so.
President Trump who is expected to surrender himself to authorities in Georgia on Aug. 24 where he’s facing charges related to his questioning of the 2020 election results said his lead in the polls had soften the blows of the charges he’s facing in four separate criminal cases.
“It’s I think it’s a lot easier because I’m so high in the polls, because it means that people get to see it’s a fraud,” President Trump said. He also questioned why Democrat politicians who questioned the results of the election did not face charges like he did.
President Trump also took aim at his former attorney general, Bill Barr, saying he only “pretended” to investigate election fraud, because he was “so petrified, so frightened of being impeached.”
“Bill Barr didn’t do an investigation or the election fraud either … He said he did and he pretended he did. But he didn’t,” President Trump said.
President Trump also reiterated his viewpoint that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the right to send back the electoral votes to state legislatures in states where there was suspected voter fraud.
The question of whether Mr. Pence had the right to do so is central in charges brought against President Trump in Georgia where he is facing 13 charges including the allegation his efforts to question the election results amounted to a criminal conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
President Trump said he believed that Mr. Pence had received “very bad advice,” and that there had been lawyers who had argued on both sides of the issue.
“They’re saying you don’t have any right to challenge and if you challenge that election, we’re going to indict you and put you in jail,” President Trump said.
The events of Jan. 6, 2021, the massive protest in Washington of tens of thousands of President Trump’s supporters who believed that the 2020 election was stolen, have been misreported and mischaracterized, then former president said.
A small group of people caused problems at the Capitol, while the vast majority were there to protect “peacefully and patriotically,” he said.
“People that were in that crowd that day… said it was the most beautiful day they’ve ever experienced,” President Trump said, adding “There was love and unity.”
“I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love. And I’ve also never seen, simultaneously and from the same people, such hatred of what they’ve done to our country,” he said.
In the interview, President Trump expressed his wish to represent both Democrats and Republicans, saying “most of the people in our country are fantastic.”
For his number-one priority as president if elected again, President Trump said he would remove hundreds of thousands of “criminals that have been allowed into our country and getting them out.”
Melanie Sun and Jackson Richman contributed to this report.