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Trump’s CNN town hall is a sign of a broader and more traditional campaign strategy

<i>Joe Raedle/Getty Images</i><br/>Former President Donald Trump
Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump

By Kristen Holmes, CNN

Former President Donald Trump‘s 2024 campaign is pursuing a strategy of expanding his appeal by reaching out to audiences beyond friendly conservative media outlets, multiple advisers familiar with the strategy said, including a CNN town hall this week.

The town hall event in New Hampshire Wednesday evening, Trump’s first appearance on CNN since the 2016 election, joins a list of other signs that Trump is adopting a more traditional campaign in his third run for the White House.

The former president has surrounded himself with a more organized, experienced team to complement his unconventional campaign style. He’s also scaling back larger rallies, a Trump campaign trademark, for more intimate campaign settings and retail stops that allow the former president to engage with voters.

“Look, there are three camps of people: those who will always be with Trump, those who aren’t sure and those who will never be with him,” one Trump adviser told CNN. “We are working on getting the support of every single person in that middle category.”

That approach speaks to an acknowledgment by the Trump campaign and its allies that the former president must broaden his appeal inside and outside the Republican Party if he is to clinch the GOP nomination and retake the White House in 2024, following his failed reelection bid and disappointing results by Republicans in last year’s midterm elections. The process is being driven by a team of veteran political operatives, skilled in matters such as the delegate process, who believe Trump’s path to victory cannot simply be a reprisal of his insurgent 2016 bid or his large, expensive 2020 operation.

The former president’s team has increased its outreach with traditional news outlets, taking questions from television and print correspondents on recent campaign swings from organizations Trump has spent years attacking.

Trump’s team also sees the town hall has an opportunity to draw a contrast with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has clashed with what he often refers to as “legacy media” organizations.

“A lot of Republicans, they get worried about being attacked by the media, they worry about getting smeared, it’s not anything good. I don’t read any of it, so I don’t really care,” DeSantis said last month.

One Trump adviser noted the former president would likely keep his focus on DeSantis and the GOP primary, though some in his orbit have urged him to use the town hall setting and his standing as frontrunner in Republican primary polls to pivot to general election attacks on President Joe Biden.

Three sources close to the former president told CNN there wasn’t any intense preparation for the town hall, but that his team huddled together Tuesday, talked through potential questions and the event with him. One source said the team also touched on his previous positions on different topics.

“Trump is already prepared,” one source told CNN, saying the goal for the town hall is to amplify his core message.

Advisers to the former president acknowledge he still has work to do to engage with Republican voters outside of his loyal base of supporters, multiple sources told CNN.

“There is a belief that Trump can ‘out-personality’ other candidates,” one of the sources close to the former president told CNN, highlighting Trump’s ability to connect with people.

This is particularly important in the early voting state of New Hampshire, where Trump has already visited twice since launching his third presidential bid. During his first trip in January, Trump delivered the keynote address at the state GOP’s annual meeting, a more understated group of party leaders. He returned last month, inviting supporters from around the Granite State to a packed event in Manchester where he delivered a lengthy address.

In a sign of the anticipation surrounding Trump’s town hall appearance, former Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney’s PAC launched a new TV ad in New Hampshire calling Trump “unfit for office” and “a risk America can never take again.”

The ad will air on CNN this week, according to a release from the group, called the Great Task PAC. Cheney, who narrates the ad, has said she will do everything in her power to ensure the former president is not elected to the White House again.

“Donald Trump is the only president in American history who has refused to guarantee the peaceful transfer of power,” Cheney says in the ad. “He lost the election and he knew it. He betrayed millions of Americans by telling them the election was stolen. He ignored the rulings of dozens of courts.”

Ongoing investigations

Trump’s town hall also comes as he faces several legal hurdles.

In New York, a jury on Tuesday found Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, awarding the writer about $5 million.

Carroll, who sued Trump for battery and defamation, alleged that he raped her in a Manhattan luxury department store dressing room in the spring of 1996 and then defamed her years later when she went public with the allegations.

Trump, who has denied the allegations, called the verdict “a total disgrace” and “continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time” in a post on Truth Social.

Additionally, Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records in Manhattan. That case stemmed from hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to women claiming extramarital affairs with Trump, which he has denied.

The former president is also under scrutiny by special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading a pair of investigations — one into the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol and the other on the handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Additionally, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis plans to announce charges this summer from the investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

Trump, however, has said that he is running for president regardless of the criminal charges he may face, criticizing all of the investigations as politically motivated.

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