On Wednesday, May 10, Saint Anselm College hosted a CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with former President Donald Trump. The primetime event was moderated by “CNN This Morning” Anchor Kaitlan Collins. The college has received feedback from many individuals and wishes to provide answers to some of the questions that have been posed.

What was this event?

CNN Presidential Town Halls are moderated discussions with leading presidential candidates. CNN has stated that the event with former President Donald Trump will be the first of many in the coming months. The network approached Saint Anselm College to be a host venue for the event.

The CNN Town Hall held at Saint Anselm College on May 10 was moderated by CNN Anchor Kaitlan Collins. The former President and 2024 Republican presidential candidate took questions from Collins and a live audience of New Hampshire Republican and undeclared voters who say they intend to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. CNN and other national media have a tradition of hosting leading presidential candidates for town halls, debates and political events as a critical component of providing voters an opportunity to be informed about those who seek to be president or hold other political offices. 

Why would Saint Anselm College host this event?

Saint Anselm has a long history of participation in the democratic process, with every major candidate for president since the 1960 election visiting the college. Through the years the college has hosted hundreds of talks, town halls and other political events. The New Hampshire Institute of Politics, a nonpartisan center whose mission is to educate, engage and empower citizens to participate in civic and political life, is at the center of much of this activity.

College President Dr. Joseph A. Favazza said, “We believe that an interchange of ideas and perspectives is the bedrock of an informed electorate, which is why we have enthusiastically and impartially hosted political events since the 1950s. Democracy depends on an educated citizenry. Here at Saint Anselm, we are proud to play an important and unique role in this regard.”

Why provide a forum to a divisive figure like former President Donald Trump?

Dr. Favazza stated that it was understood that many people would express concerns about this event. Engaging controversial candidates involves complicated and difficult decisions and the college was guided by several factors:

  • This was a moderated CNN Town Hall event, one in a series the college will host with major presidential candidates, along with other national media, throughout the 2024 election season.
  • While former President Trump faces legal trouble in several jurisdictions and continues inflammatory rhetoric, he is the current frontrunner in the Republican presidential race. At this moment, he is the likely Republican candidate to appear on the 2024 ballot.
  • Saint Anselm College has impartially hosted every major candidate for president since the 1960 election, regardless of party, regardless of political ideology. Given the mission of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, and given the college’s history, the college would betray its responsibility toward impartiality by turning away any major party candidate.
  • The college agreed to allow CNN to interview this candidate on campus in order to have a seasoned journalist ask and moderate challenging questions to provide an unfiltered view of the candidate’s positions and demeanor. Inspected by an experienced and impartial professional, the American people have the opportunity to consider the candidacy of an individual who is a viable presidential aspirant.

Does the college support the views shared during the CNN Town Hall?

This event in no way represented support or endorsement. In particular, the college was deeply troubled by the former President’s remarks regarding the civil trial with a finding that he was liable for sexual assault. Equally disturbing was the audience’s reaction, nearly all of whom were not members of the Saint Anselm community, with laughter. The college does not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind, including sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sexual harassment. 

Who was in the audience and how were they selected?

The audience was chosen by CNN and was comprised of New Hampshire Republican and undeclared voters who say they intend to vote in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary. A small number of tickets were allotted to the college, which were offered to a limited number of members of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics political ambassadors, members of the College Republican and College Democrat clubs, and members of the Student Government Association. There was no effort to disproportionately seat Trump supporters and no members of the audience were paid to appear.

Will there be other candidates appearing at Saint Anselm?

Yes, as has been the case in every election cycle, candidates for president and other political and media representatives will appear on the campus. This year many Republican candidates have appeared, along with two Democratic candidates. Depending on the election cycle, visits to Saint Anselm are either heavily filled by Republican or Democrat candidates, depending on which party does not have an incumbent President. 

“For more than a generation, Saint Anselm has participated in the democratic process, underscoring our mission to provide a transformative education that fosters critical thinking skills for our students,” said President Joseph A. Favazza, Ph.D. “We look forward to hosting many more town halls, debates and other political events, as we once again play this important role for our community and our country.”

In the 2024 election cycle, several declared candidates and others who are considering a run for President have appeared on campus, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and others. On the Democratic side, Robert F. Kennedy and Marianne Williamson have appeared at Saint Anselm.

In February 2020, CNN held town halls with eight Democratic candidates over two nights leading to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, including President Joe Biden, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang. Later in that week, ABC News hosted a primetime 2020 Democratic Presidential Debate with those candidates in the Sullivan Arena at Saint Anselm. 

Previously, every major candidate for president since 1960 has visited the campus.