By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday presented his vision for the country as he fielded questions from voters and a CNN moderator for a town hall in New Hampshire.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, shared what he’d do if he is reelected in 2024 to address what his campaign calls the “Biden decline” currently taking place in the United States.
Republicans and undeclared voters were at the event, held at Saint Anselm College. It marked Trump’s first appearance on CNN since before he became president in 2016, and was also the first major televised event of the 2024 presidential campaign.
“President Joe Biden has turned everything into a disaster: inflation, the economy, the border, crime, energy, China, Russia, and wokeness in schools,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement shortly after the town hall.
“President Trump will save the economy, bring down inflation, secure the border, crush the Deep State and prevent World War 3.
“President Trump is the only one who can stop the forces from destroying our country—anyone else will be ripped to shreds.”
Throughout the event, Trump shared his policy stances on a range of issues.
An audience member asked about skyrocketing prices that have affected food, gas, utilities, and insurance, which has increased U.S. taxpayers’ bills by several hundred dollars a month.
“If elected president again, what is the first thing you’d do to help bring down the costs to make things more affordable?” she asked.
“Drill, baby, drill,” Trump responded, referring to drilling for more oil to help lower energy costs. The audience warmly cheered and applauded him.
Trump said under his administration, the country became energy independent and was soon to be energy dominant, and oil prices went down to $1.87, and in some cases lower, before “these stupid fools ended it,” in a reference to the Biden administration.
“We created the greatest economy in history,” Trump asserted, adding that “a big part of that economy” also gave Americans large tax cuts.
He said energy costs during the Biden administration went from $1.87 for gasoline to “five, six, seven, eight, and even nine dollars.”
“And your electricity, heating bills went through the roof, and that’s what started inflation,” Trump said, adding that inflation hasn’t stopped.
Looming US Debt Default
In a separate part of the town hall, Trump said he is concerned about the nation’s debt crisis and predicts that the government will need to default eventually, which is better than “spending money like drunken sailors.”
The remarks come as Congress and the White House are discussing how to avert a first-ever U.S. debt default.
“Look, you have to cut your costs. We’re spending $7 trillion, much of it on nonsense,” Trump said. “Frankly the Senate should have never approved it. I say get [rid of] all the money that was wasted, and if they don’t get rid of that, you’ll have to default. And by the way, you’re going to have to default eventually anyway, but it’s going to be much messier that way.”
He said he doesn’t think the situation will end in a default, and that if Republicans refuse to raise the debt limit and continue to call for spending cuts, Democrats “will absolutely cave” with that strategy.
“You once said that using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge just could not happen, when you were in the Oval Office,” CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins said. “So why is it different now that you’re out of office?”
“Because now I’m not president,” Trump said, which made the audience respond with laughter.
Trump expressed his ongoing commitment to protecting the Second Amendment and combating mental health issues in the country instead of restricting the right to access guns.
“There’s been nobody that’s protected the Second Amendment, as you know, like I have. I’ve protected it through thick and thin, not easy to do,” he said. “But we have a very big mental health problem in this country. And again, it’s not the gun that pulls the trigger, it’s the person that pulls the trigger. And we have to protect our Second Amendment.”
Collins noted that there have already been more than 200 mass shootings in 2023. She asked whether Trump would introduce any gun restrictions if he was to be reelected.
Trump said he would “do numerous things” to help harden schools with greater security measures overall, including ensuring enough security guards and potentially training teachers who are ex-military or law enforcement on using guns in case of a breach.
He noted that “it is a big mental health problem in this country more than anything else.”
“And remember, we have 700 million guns among Americans, and many people, if they don’t have a gun, they’re not going to be very safe. A gun gives them security,” he said, adding that cities such as Chicago and New York are cities with tough gun control laws but “all of those places are the worst, dangerous places, so more gun restrictions is not the answer.”
A woman who had previously voted for Trump asked him how he plans to appeal to women voters “who are concerned” about the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v. Wade in 2022, and how states may change their laws on abortion.
“Getting rid of Roe v. Wade was an important thing for pro-life because it gives pro-life something to negotiate with. Pro-life had nothing being stuck in Roe v. Wade to negotiate with,” he said.
“I happen to believe in the exceptions to banning abortion—to save the life of the mother, rape, incest. I think it’s frankly important to do that but a lot of people are against that,” Trump added, saying he considers some on the left to be radical as some politicians have stated they would consider legislation to legalize the choice to terminate the baby’s life near the end of the pregnancy or soon after the baby is born.
Collins chimed in, asking whether Trump would ever consider signing a federal abortion ban into law.
“What I’ll do is negotiate so that people are happy,” he said.
When pressed further, he said that he is “honored” to have been able to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who played a role in overturning Roe.
“We now have a great negotiating ability, and I think we’re going to be able to get something done … Some people are at six weeks, some people are at two weeks, three weeks…”
“Where is President Trump?” Collins interjected.
“President Trump is going to make a determination what he thinks is great for the country and what’s fair for the country. … We are in a very good negotiating position right now only because of what I was able to do,” he said, adding, “People that will kill a baby in the ninth month or the eighth month or the seventh month or after the baby is born, they’re the radicals, not the pro-life.”
Collins asked Trump whether he would rule out his “zero-tolerance” policy that separated families at the U.S.–Mexico border.
Family separations took place under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that was in effect from April–June 2018. The policy required all adults who cross the border into the United States illegally to be prosecuted. This meant that minors, who could not be held in criminal custody with their parents, were separated from their parents and were eventually typically sent to live with a sponsor, which is often a relative or another person linked to the family.
“Well when you have that policy, people don’t come,” Trump told Collins. “If a family hears that they’re going to be separated—they love their family—they don’t come. I know it sounds harsh.”
When asked again whether he would re-implement that policy, Trump said, “Well, the thing is, we have to save our country.”
“When you say to a family that ‘if you come we’re going to break you up,’ they don’t come. And we can’t afford to have any more,” Trump said, noting how major cities like New York and Los Angeles are being “swamped” with illegal immigrants.
He projected that the country will end up by the end of the year with 15 million illegal immigrants who may come from 129 different countries. “Our whole country is being destroyed. Millions of people are illegally coming into our country,” Trump said.
After an audience member asked whether Trump would support sending more money to Ukraine, Collins asked, “Do you want Ukraine to win this war?”
Trump said he doesn’t like to think of “winning” versus “losing” in such a situation. “I think of it in terms of getting it settled,” he said. “I want everybody to stop dying.” But he said he needs the power of the presidency to step in and make that happen.
In responding to the audience member, Trump did not answer the question directly but noted that the United States is “giving away so much ammunition” that the country doesn’t have ammunition for itself.
“If I were president, this war would have never happened,” Trump said.
“We’ve given so far $171 billion,” while the European Union has given about $20 billion, Trump noted. “They’ve got to put up a lot more money, because they’re taking advantage of us like every other country did.”
When pressed by Collins about whether he would support Ukraine with more weapons and funding, Trump didn’t answer the question but asserted if he were president, he would “have that war settled in one day, 24 hours.” The audience applauded.
Trump said he’d meet with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths,” Trump said. “And within 24 hours, that war will be settled; it’ll be over. It’ll be absolutely over.”
Janice Hisle contributed to this report.