Three things tell you all you need to know about the “town hall” event that cable network MSNBC hosted for Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump Wednesday night.
First, MSNBC decided to counter program against CNN’s Town Hall, which featured Republican Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Second, the Trump town hall was moderated by Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, which has become Trump’s platform of choice among morning news shows.
Third, it took nearly 25 minutes into the hour-long event for a member of the audience to ask the candidate a question that could have been written by the candidate’s campaign manager. In the course of teeing up a softball for Trump about race relations and small businesses, the questioner told Trump that she and her husband had established their “food entrepreneur” business based on principles they had learned from Trump’s “teachings.”
It’s not the first time that Trump has counter-programmed events featuring his rivals. Most notably, he skipped a debate hosted by Fox News in Iowa last month, and held a rally, ostensibly to benefits wounded veterans, at the same time. But it’s the first time that a supposedly neutral news organization has actively participated in providing what amounts to free advertising for the Trump campaign at the same time that his rivals are appearing elsewhere.
In the end, Trump was asked a grand total of eight questions from the audience, three of which were crammed into the final four minutes of the event. And his interrogators weren’t exactly budding Torquemadas.
One, identifying herself as a college student concerned about tuition costs, said, “I was just wondering, since there’s so much going on in the rest of the campaign, umm, I was just wondering how you are going to…like…what are your thoughts on Bernie’s higher education plan and how he’s going to reduce the cost?”
“Thank you, it’s a very good question,” Trump said, before saying that “the problem” with the plan put forward by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the second-place candidate in the race for the Democratic nomination, “is that everyone is going to pay 95 percent taxes.”
Of course, nobody in US history has paid an effective tax rate of 95 percent, and Sanders – though his proposal are, arguably, ruinously expensive – has proposed no such thing. Yet there wasn’t the slightest pushback, and Scarborough guided Trump onto the much safer ground of college tuition costs which (shocker!) Trump said he would reduce.
There are many unique things about Trump’s presidential campaign, but the complete co-optation of a television program on a network that is in general, strongly opposed to your candidacy is, if nothing else, a triumph.