Before Debate, Trump Stokes Feud With CNN’s Jake Tapper


Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Heading into Thursday’s weirdly early CNN presidential debate, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are looking to raise expectations for their opponent and lower them for themselves. Trump is having some trouble with the first part of this strategy: He can’t seem to decide if Biden is a “worthy debater” or a feeble old man who needs to be “jacked up” on drugs just to put together a full sentence.

But Team Trump has had no trouble executing the second part of the plan: lowering expectations by highlighting the alleged anti-Trump bias of debate co-moderator Jake Tapper (and, to a lesser extent, co-moderator Dana Bash).

Trump got the ball rolling earlier this month on Logan Paul’s podcast. He mentioned Tapper (or “Fake Tapper”) several times while predicting that there’s only “a good 10 percent chance” that the network will be fair to him at the debate. He said the Biden team “thought I’d turn CNN down. Look, CNN is the enemy, and they thought I was going to turn CNN and Tapper” down.

Eric Trump hit the “Tapper is biased” talking points even more clearly in a Sunday interview on Fox News, claiming that previous CNN debates featured “attack after attack” on his father, while Biden got “a free pass.”

“Make no mistake, this is still CNN, right?” Eric Trump said. “This is Jake Tapper. Jake Tapper has compared my father to Hitler before, right?”

“I saw [CNN’s anchors] as I walked into a courtroom every day where they’re sitting there with grins on their face,” Eric continued. “I mean, just ear-to-ear smiles, right? So understand that he’s not just gonna be debating Joe Biden. He’s gonna be debating CNN.”

On Monday the network unwittingly drew more attention to this narrative when CNN anchor Kasie Hunt dramatically cut off her interview with Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt because she would not stop attacking Tapper and Bash. “President Trump is knowingly going into a hostile environment on this very network, on CNN, with debate moderators who have made their opinions about him very well known over the past eight years and their biased coverage of him,” Leavitt said.

Hunt defended the moderators, saying they’ve “acquitted themselves as professionals as they have covered campaigns and interviewed candidates from all sides of the aisle.” She tried to move on, but Leavitt protested, “Well, first of all, it takes about five minutes to Google ‘Jake Tapper, Donald Trump’ to see that Jake Tapper has —”

Hunt warned, “Ma’am, I’m going to stop you if you continue to attack my colleagues,” then ended the interview when Leavitt insisted, “I am stating facts that your colleagues have stated in the past —”

If you can’t recall the details of Trump’s epic feud with Tapper, that’s because it doesn’t really exist. Yes, Trump has issues with Tapper, as he does with many prominent journalists. But this is no Megyn Kelly beef.

If you follow Leavitt’s suggestion to Google “Jake Tapper,” you’ll find recently published pieces from Trump-friendly outlets rounding up his on-air criticism of the former president. Here’s a sample from the New York Post:

Tapper, the network’s lead Washington anchor, has called the 45th president a “desperate electoral loser” in the past, suggested Trump spread “Russian propaganda” — and has said that if re-elected, the former president will try to “kill democracy.

“He did try to kill democracy once, and he’s going to try to do it again,” Tapper said on air in December 2021. “But this time with a little help from his friends.”

Like Eric Trump, the Post highlighted the fact that Tapper has compared Trump to Hitler. Out of context, this may sound extreme, but Tapper was accurately noting that Trump’s remarks about migrants “poisoning the blood of our country” echo the language Hitler used about Jews.

“If you were to open up a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, you would find the Nazi leader describing the mixing of non-Germans with Germans as poisoning,” Tapper said. “The Jew, Hitler wrote, ‘poisons the blood of others’ … Donald Trump’s language mirrors this directly.”

Tapper and Bash have certainly criticized Trump on many occasions. But just about every CNN anchor has said similar things about the former president. Trump knew what he was getting into when he agreed to a debate hosted by the network, just as his team knows what they’re doing by portraying CNN’s moderators as bigger bullies than they actually are.

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