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Trump talks debating Biden, working with McConnell at Fox town hall

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Trump talks debating Biden, working with McConnell at Fox town hall

Feb 20, 2024 | 8:05 pm ET
By Abraham Kenmore
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Trump talks debating Biden, working with McConnell at Fox town hall
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Former President Donald Trump was interviewed by TV personality Laura Ingraham in Greenville on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, ahead of South Carolina's Republican presidential primary on Saturday (Abraham Kenmore/SC Daily Gazette)

GREENVILLE – In a wide-ranging interview with Fox TV personality Laura Ingraham Tuesday, former President Donald Trump said he was willing to debate President Joe Biden and suggested he might not be able to work with Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a theoretical second term.

“I’ll challenge (Biden) right now,” Trump said. “When you have the final Republican, the final Democrat, you have the two people, you have to debate.”

The interview with Ingraham, host of “The Ingraham Angle,” taped in front of a friendly audience of several hundred people at the Greenville Convention Center, came four days before South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary on Saturday.

Trump told Ingraham he refused to participate in any of the Republican primary debates because he was so far up in the polls it would be a waste of time. But he said he would do as many debates with Biden as necessary. The two debated twice during the 2020 election.

Ingraham kept the questions friendly, asking Trump whether his wife Melania would join him on the campaign trail (yes) and how to communicate his sense of humor to voters (he doesn’t want to; saying, “I don’t think I want to be a comedian, with respect to the campaign.”

The interview touched on policy oriented questions, too, such as whether he could work with McConnell given that the two men “butted heads” on a range of issues, including aid to Ukraine and a recent immigration bill the Kentucky Senator worked on, then voted against after Trump opposed it.

“I don’t know that I could work with him, he gave away trillions of dollars he didn’t have to, trillions of dollars, he made it very easy for the Democrats,” Trump said.

Most of the questions presumed that Trump will be the Republican nominee. He currently has a wide lead in the polls over his one major remaining rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was also in Greenville on Tuesday. 

Earlier in the day Haley announced definitively that she is not stepping down from the race.

“I don’t think she knows how to get out, actually,” Trump said when Ingraham asked her about Haley’s comments. “If she was doing well I’d understand it, but she’s doing very poorly.”

NATO and foreign aid

The segment also included a few audience questions. One attendee noted the “unnecessary billions of dollars of foreign aid we have given specifically to Ukraine” and asked Trump how he was going to “fix all that spending.” Trump replied: “We don’t want to give foreign aid to countries that hate us … and yet we don’t protect our own border,” and then talked about ISIS.

Ingraham then tried to turn the conversation back to Ukraine: “You wouldn’t be in favor of giving $60 billion more to Ukraine?” she asked.

“No,” Trump said.

“Because they said without that money Ukraine will definitely lose the war,” Ingraham continued.

Rather than reply, Trump pivoted to his familiar claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he was president, one of several times he brought it up in the interview.

“Ukraine would have never happened. I know Putin so well and it was the apple of his eye, Ukraine was the apple of his eye,” Trump said at one point. “I said, ‘don’t ever do it.’”

Trump also reiterated a statement he made earlier this month that the United States should not defend NATO allies who do not spend 2% of their gross domestic product on their own military defense, the amount which members agreed to meet by this year, despite most falling short.

At a rally in Conway on Feb. 10, Trump said he told one European leader that he would not defend NATO members who do not meet the benchmark, and, in fact, would encourage Russia to “do whatever the hell they want.”

Trump faced backlash from European leaders and members of his own party in the days after his comment, and when he told the story again to Ingraham on Tuesday, he left out the encouragement to Russia.

“If I said I would defend them, they wouldn’t have paid,” he told Ingraham.

Election interference

Closer to home, Trump continued to describe the ongoing civil and criminal cases against him as “election interference.”

He also made a passing reference to Fox’s settlement with Dominion Voting Systems for $787.5 million after the voting machine company sued the broadcasting company for its claims that Dominion machines were involved in voter fraud.

Despite the lack of evidence, however, Trump continues to claim the 2020 election was fraudulent, including a backhanded compliment to Biden.

“This guy is destroying our country,” he said “There’s two reasons: they’re stupid, which they’re not because anybody (who) cheats on elections that well — hope Fox leaves that in, but they probably won’t — but anybody cheats on elections that much can’t be stupid … or they hate our country.”