Opinion |  Trump Is Mainstream, Like It Or Not

Crouch down, America. Oops, happened again.

The presidential election is still a year and a half away. But on Wednesday night, Donald Trump will return to the campaign mainstream. At a town hall event in New Hampshire hosted by CNN, the former president will answer questions from viewers and network broadcaster Kaitlan Collins.

The whole spectacle sounds absolutely horrifying. The show will air live, leaving Mr. Trump more or less free to inject his lies straight into the viewer's vein. He would walk away from an E. Jean Carroll verdict, increasing his chances of saying something bad about women or witch hunt and how everyone is always out to get it. And even if he shuts it down, its reappearance on major prime-time platforms raises vexing questions. After everything this anti-democratic, violent carnival peddler has put in, are we really going to treat him like a normal candidate this time? How does CNN and other media outlets justify giving him the megaphone to dominate and degrade the political landscape? Have we learned There isn't anything of the last eight years?

Short answer: We have actually learned a lot about Mr. Trump and the threat he poses to American democracy. But trying to shut him out of public discussion or the campaigning process carries its own dangers. Not only will it play into the victim politics he's selling with infuriating effectiveness. This risks further undermining public confidence in the democratic process — making the system look too weak to deal with a would-be autocrat — and even the process itself. As with many things about the MAGA king, there's no easy fix.

Nothing Trump has done thus far legally prevents him from pursuing, or serving, another term in the White House. Yes, many voters regard his double impeachment, his role in the January 6 riots, and his bountiful legal troubles as a disqualification. But many others don't. poll consistently placing former presidents ahead of the current Republican presidential pack. A recent CBS News-YouGov survey gave him a loss advantage of 36 points over Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida (58 percent to 22 percent) among possible GOP primary voters. No other competitor has cracked double digits. As for the general election, it's just ABC News-Washington Post election showing him a six-point lead—seven points with the undecided team—over President Biden.

While the initial poll was flawed, it served as a reminder of Trump's enduring appeal to millions of Americans. He is a serious contender for the White House — in fact, heaven help us, tough ones. Treating him otherwise would be a breach of duty by the news media, democratic institutions and voters.

It's not as if Mr. Trump can be tucked away in a safe deposit box like a bunch of classified documents. Today's mediascape includes a number of conservative players who want to curry favor with him in hopes of making his fans theirs too. Imagine the embarrassing tongue bath she received from Tucker Carlson on their April sit down. Such a slobberfest should not be the primary means by which voters judge Trump. He had to walk his pace, like any horse in a race.

Just to clarify: No one is crazy enough to think that Mr. Trump and CNN join hands because of a selfless and high-minded commitment to the public good. They use each other. Under new leadership, the network is looking to rebuild its reputation, and rank it, as a less aggressive and more balanced news source.

As for the former president, CNN is just one part of his grand media strategy. His team has talked about how their man wants to hit the reset button in relation to the fourth estate. Journalists from mainstream outlets were invited to travel on his campaign plane. And the campaign is negotiating with other top outlets, including NBfor one-on-one time with the candidate.

This is the most shocking move ever. Mr. Trump has always been a creation of the media. Without the “fake news” he loves so much, he would simply be a failed real estate scion peddling mediocre steaks and a worthless degree from his “university.”

More specifically, Mr. Trump's people scoff at the notion that his willingness to play with the media is a testament to his courage and manhood. “Going outside the traditional Republican ‘comfort zone' was key to President Trump's success in 2016,” one toady recently told Hill. “Some of the other candidates are too scared to take this step in their quest to beat Joe Biden and afraid to do anything but Fox News.”

Take that, “Finger PuddingDeSantis.

More targeted: canoodling Mr. Trump with CNN turning knives at the guts of Fox News, which hasn't been quite compliant lately for his taste. This is not just a matter of personal grudges. Threatening/scaring/talking back Fox News is critical to Mr. Trump in 2024. Whatever the recent network drama, no other conservative platform is quite like it.

It's hard to know how Trump's stride outside of his MAGA bubble will fare, especially starting out. The man was a terrible president, but he was always a top pitcher with a strange charisma. And a big part of running for—and even becoming—president is interesting salesmanship. That said, he's gotten out of the practice of interacting with people who aren't there just to lick his boots. He has spent the last few years mostly confined to a fantasy world of his own creation, from which it can be difficult to return.

That makes these early appearances all the more important. CNN has a lot at stake Wednesday as a candidate – maybe more. This goes beyond real-time fact-checking of candidates, though it has to be established early and decisively to prevent any uncontested disinformation. Mr. Trump cannot be allowed to stand around or walk away from an awkward topic: He had to face hard questions and skeptics from the start.

I wish CNN had waited a little longer before relaunching Mr Trump. Turning on the prime-time campaign coverage machine this early in the cycle isn't healthy for the American psyche under normal circumstances, let alone with this highly toxic character in the mix.

But now that the Trump Show is back, the media — everyone really — needs to demand more from this season than ever before. Former presidents are expected to go through the same vetting ritual as any other candidate: debates, town halls, non-softball interviews, candidate cattle calls — jobs. She can't be let into the fuzzy world of social media and hanging out with Sean Hannity-style sycophants.

Voters deserve an opportunity to take a clear measure of this man's candidacy, no matter how sickening some of us may find the process.