The contrast could not have been greater – “under great pressure” from the great-and-good of liberal media to ‘resist’, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie came out swinging in the so-called “Townhall” with President Trump, interrupting, interjecting, and intervening his responses with the first actual ‘American voter’ question relegated to 20 minutes into the ‘discussion’; whereas George Stephanopolous gave Joe Biden as long as he wanted to answer questions, leaving lies unchallenged and controversies unaddressed.
Behind the scenes of the NBC News Townhall, there was anger, even before the first question, but this time it wasn’t from President Trump.
As RealClearPolitics’ Philip Wegmann details, NBC employees seethed that they had agreed to host a Trump townhall in the same hour that ABC was hosting a similar Biden event. It was counterprograming, they complained, a clear attempt by the incumbent to force a split-screen moment and pull the eyeballs of the electorate away from the Democratic challenger.
They were not alone, and others went public with that sentiment. Actors and producers and on-air talent put their frustration to paper in an open letter to NBC asking the network to “air the president’s town hall either before or after Joe Biden’s so that American voters can have the opportunity to watch both.”
NBC executives didn’t budge. But while Trump got half the national spotlight, Savannah Guthrie made sure he paid for it with sharp questions that kept coming, one after the other.
Did he have any remaining COVID symptoms? Did he ever develop a case of pneumonia? Did he take a coronavirus test before the debate with Biden as required by the Commission on Presidential Debates?
Trump said he is symptom-free at the moment, said he didn’t “do too much asking” about his chest X-rays while a patient at Walter Reed medical center, and said he wasn’t sure if he had or hadn’t tested before the debate: “The doctor has very accurate information — if you are president, you have a lot of doctors you’re surrounded by — I was in great shape for the debate, and sometime after the debate, I tested positive.”
Why hadn’t he condemned white supremacy on the debate stage?
Trump said he did condemn white supremacy on stage and always has “denounced white supremacy” and then complained that the press “always starts off with the question.” Interrupting as Guthrie tried a follow-up, the exasperated president asked, “Are you listening? I denounce white supremacy!”
Why won’t he condemn Q-Anon for spreading a conspiracy theory about satanic cult of pedophiles controlling the Democratic Party?
Trump said three times that he didn’t know about the group before adding that the only knowledge he had was that they were “very much against pedophilia” and that “they fight it very hard.” The president expressed frustration that Guthrie didn’t ask him about antifa and that the press had not asked Biden about antifa.
She said it was because Biden wasn’t there, a not-so-subtle reminder to the audience about why the two presidential candidates weren’t together on stage.
”How cute,” he replied.
Why did he retweet an article claiming that Navy SEALS killed a body double of Osama bin Laden, while secretly capturing the real bin Laden, and that former President Obama may have had the SEALS killed to hide the plot?
The commander-in-chief replied that it was “an opinion of somebody” and that it “was a retweet.” While he didn’t endorse the idea, he added, he was simply putting it “out there.”
At this Guthrie responded, “I don’t get that. You’re the president, not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.” Trump said he does a lot of retweets because “the media is so fake and so corrupt” and that without social media he “wouldn’t be able to get the word out.”
The grilling went on like this for 20 minutes without a single question from the audience. At the first commercial break, White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah hurried over to the president. Three other aides quickly followed. And although voters finally got their chance to ask questions when programming returned, Guthrie did her best to keep Trump on the ropes with her own follow-ups.
The evening was not supposed to go this way. It was supposed to feature a second presidential debate – moderated by C-SPAN’s Steve Scully with a townhall format — but was cancelled after the debate commission insisted on a virtual event and Trump refused to participate. Without a Democrat to attack, the Trump campaign returned to familiar form. They went after the moderator. And vice versa.
“Even though the commission canceled the in-person debate that could have happened tonight, one occurred anyway, and President Trump soundly defeated NBC’s Savannah Guthrie in her role as debate opponent and Joe Biden surrogate,” Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh said at the end of the night.
Others were delighted with the journalist’s performance. The liberal website Vox crooned that “Guthrie delivered the Trump interview we’ve been wanting for years.” Barack Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau wished she would moderate a townhall with Trump “every night between now and election day.”
To Trump loyalists, Guthrie’s adversarial attitude, and the cheering section it engendered, merely confirmed the president’s oft-stated view that the media has taken sides in this election. But, in their view, the night was not at all a waste.
“Obviously, she was trying to placate liberal critics who attacked NBC for giving Trump a platform at all,” a conservative operative close to the campaign told RCP. “Savannah’s decision to aggressively debate Trump instead of interview him or allow voters to speak at the townhall allowed Trump to appear the optimist and turned the studio audience to his side.”
This was particularly true over the left shoulder of the president. Throughout the night one woman nodded with enthusiastic agreement and gave thumbs up regularly when he spoke, earning her both online gratitude and infamy.
— Dan Bongino (@dbongino) October 16, 2020
Conservative corners of the Internet heralded her as “the hero we need right now,” while liberal social media users suspected a plant who was pulling off “a psychological trick.” Perhaps that reaction encapsulates the entire evening – and even the Trump presidency itself. Although aggressive, the questioning from Guthrie was nothing Trump hasn’t faced before. And after four years, the nation has grown accustomed to a president who pushes back equally hard.
Did the Republican win a strategic victory then by drawing attention away from the Democrat? “Definitely,” the conservative operative explained. “That’s why liberals were up in arms in anger against NBC, knowing Trump is must-watch and Biden is a snooze-fest.”
When the night was finally over and Guthrie was out of questions, Trump press aide Dan Scavino shared a “behind the scenes” video of the night on Twitter. The president was working over a delighted crowd. As MSNBC returned to regular programming, Rachel Maddow tried distancing her cable network from parent company NBC.
“Well, that happened,” the liberal talk show host said to start her show. Guthrie’s question were fine, she added. NBC, not MSNBC, she sighed, had produced what “was a strange replacement for what was otherwise supposed to be the second presidential debate of this general election season.”
Meanwhile, on ABC, Democrats embraced their presidential nominee as a reassuring Mr. Rogers.
As RealClearPolitics’ Susan Crabtree reports, the switch from debate to townhall turned out to be a net positive for Biden when it comes to displaying his skill at talking calmly with voters – even those expressing differences with him. But it wasn’t a slam dunk by any means. His performance was also marred by some wildly uneven moments and windy responses from him, along with an outright refusal to answer whether he supports packing the Supreme Court — though promising he would do so before Nov. 3.
Throughout the dueling forums, Twitter lit up with Biden supporters’ sharply contrasting the calm and collegial tone of the ABC townhall hosted by George Stephanopoulos with the combative faceoff between Trump and NBC host Savannah Guthrie before she turned to voters in the audience for questions.
As the Biden forum wrapped up, “Mr. Rogers” was trending on Twitter after Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser for President Trump’s reelection campaign, compared the Democratic nominee’s performance to the long-running children’s show aimed at preschoolers.
“Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I’m watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood,” she tweeted, misspelling Fred Rogers last name.
Conservative critics were irate over Guthrie’s grilling of Trump for nearly 20 minutes during a format supposedly dedicated to questions from voters. They also took issue with Stephanopoulos’ light touch with Biden.
Biden’s supporters eagerly embraced the Mr. Rogers analogy, arguing it was a “self-own” for Team Trump because Rogers was known for his soothing, patient and kind demeanor.
“Pretty telling that this crew thinks Mr. Rogers is the bad guy,” tweeted Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas.
Meanwhile, during the same hour, Fox News host Tucker Carlson was revealing purportedly new Hunter Biden emails resurrecting a narrative that Biden, while vice president, demanded the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor because he was investigating energy firm Burisma, for which Hunter worked as a highly paid board member. Twitter and Facebook for the prior 48 hours had prevented their users from tweeting or posting a New York Post story about the emails and calling into question previous assertions from Biden that he knew nothing about his son’s lucrative business deals in Ukraine and China. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, over the same two days has slammed the presidential nominee as the head of the “Biden Crime Family” over the lucrative contracts. Giuliani provided the emails to the New York Post, which he said were obtained from a laptop Hunter Biden dropped off at a repair shop last year and never picked up.
Throughout the 90 minute-townhall, interrupted for commercials, Biden fielded audience inquiries but received none from Stephanopoulos, nor the audience, about the propriety of Hunter Biden’s overseas deals and any links to his father.
Holding his mask in one hand and prepared notes in the other, Biden took a soft, measured approach to the questions. Though he often droned on with lengthy responses, he never raised his voice or grew testy.
Kelly Leigh, an undecided voter, asked if he would take the vaccine that Trump has so often touted will soon be available, considering that Kamala Harris, his running mate, said she wouldn’t if Trump alone were to endorse it. Biden responded that he would take such a vaccine, but also pointed to some of Trump’s more bizarre statements about remedies – some of which the president has brushed off as sarcasm.
“No. 1: President Trump talks about things that just aren’t accurate about everything,” Biden said. “The point is that if the scientists, if the body of scientists, say if this is what is ready to be done, been tested, gone through the three phases, yes, I’d take it, encourage people to take it. President Trump says things like everything from crazy stuff he’s walking away from now, ‘Inject bleach in your arm and that’s going to work.”http://feedproxy.google.com/”
Throughout the townhall, Biden spent so much time on policy minutiae that the questioners often looked nonplused. One of those moments came when Cedric Humphrey, a young black man, asked, “What do you have to say to young black voters who see voting for you as further participation in a system that continually fails to protect them?”
At first, Biden said young black voters would have the power to determine the outcome of the election if they would only exercise their right to vote. Then, he dove off a policy cliff, leaving Humphrey staring at him with a blank expression. Along with spotlighting criminal justice reform as a way to help the black community, Biden delivered a mini-dissertation on how black Americans would be helped by his administration to “gain wealth.”
When it comes to violent protests demanding justice for black men and women killed by police, Biden said the solution isn’t defunding the police, and argued he would give law enforcement new tools without diminishing their budgets.
“Cops are kind of like schoolteachers now,” he said. “You know, a schoolteacher has to know everything from … how to handle hunger in a household, as well as how to teach how to read,” Biden said. “Well, cops don’t have that breadth.”
Pressed again on whether he would pack the court, Biden rambled, repeating that he has never been a fan on doing so, but now, depending on how the Senate handles Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat, he may change his mind. Her confirmation next week is considered a fait accompli.
“It depends on how much they rush this,” Biden said. When Stephanopoulos asked whether he believes voters “have a right to know where you stand,” he answered, “Yes,” but then quickly followed with the caveat, “depending on how they handle this.”
Biden also continued to insist that he would not ban fracking – a major industry in Pennsylvania and other Rust Belt battleground states – despite previous repeated claims that he would. He added that investing in renewable energy would produce better environmental results and more jobs. Biden argued that 128,000 people could be hired to fill oil wells, “and get a good salary doing it.”
One final note, from PJMedia’s Jeff Reynolds, even with about three times as many breaks, Biden showed significant signs of fatigue and a lack of focus toward the end, calling into question his capacity to handle the job of POTUS.
This worked to prove my premise after the first debate, that Trump getting him worked up and angry kept Biden engaged and on point for the entire evening. Tonight, without the constant adrenaline rushes of having to face attacks from Trump, Biden slowly faded away. In doing so, he proved what many suspect, that 77-year-old Joe Biden’s faculties are in decline.
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In summary, we suspect Trump consolidated his base but did nothing to persuade fence-sitters (if there is such a person in America), whereas Biden likely alienated some of the more progressive leftists in his base, but picked up some ‘undecideds’. Biden won the night, helped by the media.