Why Is CNN Making These Gentle, Lovely, Entirely Free Campaign Ads for the GOP Candidates?

CNN, for reasons known only to them and their makers, is hosting a series of “town halls” this week with the remaining three GOP candidates and their families. The Trump edition aired last night: it featured gentle questions from Anderson Cooper and a loving, adulatory audience. It was fucking gross. This whole concept is gross.


Trump has run one of the more divisive campaigns in American history, filled with none-too-subtle race-baiting, xenophobia, misogyny, and alleged physical assaults by members of his staff against the press. Hate crimes are being committed at his rallies. So of course it makes sense to give him an hour to sit onstage with his children and wife so they can gently burnish his image into something resembling a human being, right?

“I’ve witnessed these incredible female role models that he’s employed at the highest executive positions in the Trump Organization,” beamed Ivanka Trump. “My entire life, he always taught me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.”

That would have been a natural time for Cooper to ask how she felt about him referring to women as “fat pigs” and “crazy,” but instead the moment slid on by. We got to hear that Trump was an “incredible” father and husband, a business visionary, the second coming of Henry Ford or something, minus the anti-Semitism, of course. (Ivanka also insisted her father was thrilled when she converted to Judaism for her husband Jared Kushner.) Trump, the living embodiment of having been born on third base, also got the chance to insist that the “deck is stacked” against him.

Of the interview, Newsweek referred unironically to Trump’s family as his best “character witnesses,” claiming that their endorsements of their dad served as an “antidote” to all that shit he’s said:

For instance, when his eldest daughter Ivanka said that her father had been encouraging of her business career and had always employed female executives who were “incredible role models” it was powerful testimony—an antidote to the stories of calling women bimbos or making allusions to Megyn Kelly’s menstruation. When she talks about how motherhood has made her more empathetic, it reflects well on dad. When she talks about being sleepless, it’s very relatable—and good for her father, too.

This is a problem of both form and content: the Kasich family version, which aired Monday night, was similarly gentle, featuring his daughters teasing him about “dumb jokes.” Kasich has been a years-long disaster for reproductive rights in Ohio, and it surely would’ve been a good idea to ask his wife or daughters how they feel about his anti-abortion restrictions and his stance against paid maternity leave.


No one would do that, of course: the Kasich girls are teenagers, old enough, apparently, only to appear on CNN as props, not as participants.

CNN hasn’t done a similar set of events with the Democratic candidates; they are, however, co-sponsoring the Dem debate taking place in Brooklyn this Thursday. A generous interpretation is that, in light of that debate, these are CNN’s attempt to be less partisan, and provide balance and equal airtime. A more cynical one, given how generally insipid and unilluminating they are, is that it’s a naked ratings plug.


The Cruz version of this sideshow airs Wednesday night; from the CNN story about their own event, it appears that only his wife Heidi will join him. That makes sense, of course, given that Cruz’s children are even younger, and that his previous interactions with them in front of a crowd of reporters have occasionally gone awry.

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.


Rando Calrissian

The United States has virtually nothing to offer in terms of hard-hitting political media.

For example, there is no equivalent of Newsnight (video starts getting good at 2:35).

The hardest hitting political show on these shores is John Oliver’s. 1) He’s a Brit so this is not coming from a native son (although admittedly he’s building on a platform seen from Stewart and Colbert but I’d argue first seen in the UK with shows like Have I Got News For You), and 2) it’s a fucking comedy show.