Dueling town halls provide clear contrasts.

Separated by five states, two television news outlets and a deep trough of mutual animosity, President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden held dueling town halls Thursday that offered a jarring contrast of their opposing political styles and approaches to major issues like the coronavirus pandemic.

The events — with Trump on NBC from Miami and Biden on ABC from Philadelphia — appeared to be broadcast from entirely different dimensions. The soft-spoken Biden leaned back in a white chair, relaxed and conversational as he hit upon notes of optimism and uplift. Trump's appearance was heated and at times abrasive, with the candidate leaning forward as he defended his record and challenged the motivations of moderator Savannah Guthrie.

In a rapid-fire 60 minutes, Trump doubted the effectiveness of wearing of masks to prevent viral spread, refused to denounce the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, repeatedly declined to say whether he was tested for the coronavirus before the last debate and battled with Guthrie, who pressed him with details and a mastery of the facts that some moderators have not possessed when sparring with him.

He said his FBI director, Christopher A. Wray, was not "doing a very good job" because he did not embrace Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud. He denounced white supremacy, after being asked why he would not do so in the first presidential debate. And he predicted a "red wave" on Nov. 3, even though many of his campaign officials are skeptical.

In one of the most notable exchanges, he said he did not know about QAnon, a loose-knit online community that was recently banned from Facebook after sharing false stories, including ones about Democrats abusing children. Supporters of the group regularly appear with signs and apparel at Trump's rallies.

In one of the most notable exchanges, he said he did not know about QAnon, a loose-knit online community that was recently banned from Facebook after sharing false stories, including ones about Democrats abusing children. Supporters of the group regularly appear with signs and apparel at Trump's rallies.

"They are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that," he said about the group before attempting to pivot the conversation to talk about left-wing radicals like self-described anti-fascist protesters. The president said under questioning by Guthrie that his lungs were "infected" during his bout with the coronavirus and that he had a "little bit of a temperature."

"You're the president. You're not like someone's crazy uncle who can retweet whatever." NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie

Trump did not answer her repeated questions about whether he was tested on the day of the first debate, as required, and would not say when his last negative test was. "I don't know. I test all the time." He said he "probably" took a test on the day of the debate.

president I can't just be locked in a room someplace and not do anything," he said when asked why he did not often wear a mask. "I can't be in a basement." He also refused to apologize for recently retweeting a false conspiracy theory that holds that the Obama administration faked the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and may have orchestrated the murder of U.S. Special Forces personnel. He said it was a "retweet," suggesting he was not responsible for its accuracy.

"You're the president," Guthrie replied. "You're not like someone's crazy uncle who can retweet whatever." Trump responded by calling the media "so fake and so corrupt," and said he needed to rely on social media to "get the word out."

While Trump sparred in Miami, the mood in Philadelphia resembled an academic policy discussion more than a political showdown, as Biden chatted with ABC's George Stephanopoulos and voters — bantering with some of them, asking if he answered their questions and offering to talk more with at least one voter afterward. Biden reiterated his usual campaign talking points, saying little surprising.

He spoke about taxes, fracking, outreach to Black voters, foreign relations and the pandemic. He was asked three sets of questions about racial justice and two about gay, lesbian and transgender rights.

Biden reiterated the importance of wearing masks, again saying that if he were president he would pressure governors and local leaders to institute mask mandates. He said he would not impose fines for those who refused to take a coronavirus vaccine.

"I am running as a proud Democrat, but I am going to be an American president," he said. "I am going to take care of those who voted against me as well as those who voted for me. For real. That's what presidents do. We've got to heal this nation."

He criticized Trump at length for not modeling good behavior by wearing a mask.

"The words of a president matter — no matter whether they're good, bad or indifferent, they matter," Biden said. "And when a president doesn't wear a mask or makes fun of folks like me when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then people say: 'Well, it must not be that important.'

" During the town hall, a Trump campaign adviser, Mercedes Schlapp, mocked the Biden performance on Twitter, saying it felt "like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood."

Biden and Trump were both on home turf Thursday night — Biden in the state where he grew up and the city where his campaign is headquartered, Trump in the state that he now claims as his official residence.

As Pennsylvanians took turns introducing themselves and asking Biden questions, the former vice president often responded with how well he knows the city or town where they live.

The separate town halls took place on what would have been the night of the second scheduled presidential debate, from which Trump withdrew after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced plans to hold it remotely as a health precaution related to the president's recent coronavirus infection.

After a three-night hospital stay, Trump's doctor has said he has tested negative for the virus and is no longer contagious.

The first one-on-one debate between Biden and Trump, on Sept. 29, was widely seen as a chaotic and uninformative event, reflective of the nation's growing polarization and a declining level of civil discourse. Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and engaged in frequent arguments with the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. Biden also was coarse, largely in response, calling Trump a "clown" and telling him to "shut up." There was little discussion of substantive differences.

Polling that followed that initial meeting, which included the period during Trump's treatment for covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, generally showed Biden's lead increasing slightly. Nationally, Biden has a 12-point lead in a Washington Post average of national polls, and seven- or eight-point leads in the crucial Great Lakes states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, which flipped to Trump in 2016 to give him the presidency.

But political consultants in both parties do not consider the current advantage predictive of the election result. Trump eked out narrow wins in all three of those states after trailing by similar or slightly slimmer margins in public polling averages three weeks before the election. Those same polling averages, while not predicting Trump's eventual victory, did show that he was able to close the gap in the final weeks.

The Trump campaign has been seeking another comeback in recent days, after allies helped arrange for the release of emails and photographs allegedly gleaned from the laptop of Biden's son Hunter. The documents, initially published by the New York Post, suggest that Hunter Biden traded on his family's name and may have introduced a business partner to his father, when he was vice president. The Washington Post has been unable to verify the authenticity of the alleged emails or correspondence. Both Hunter Biden's attorney and the Biden campaign denied that any meeting occurred. The controversy around Biden's son was not raised in either town hall.

"I know these are anxious times," the elder Biden said at a fundraiser earlier in the day. "I appreciate everything you're doing for the campaign. We have 19 days left, and you know, he's going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at me."

As the town halls opened, the coronavirus pandemic continued to rage across the United States, with 62,000 new cases reported Thursday, the highest level since late July. After infecting Trump, his wife and youngest son and several of his top advisers, there were signs the virus was not yet finished disrupting the campaign.

Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Biden's running mate, announced before the town halls that she had canceled travel plans until Monday after two people involved with the campaign tested positive for the coronavirus. Later Thursday, the Biden campaign announced it had learned that an administrative member of the company that charters Biden's plane had also tested positive.

The Biden campaign said both candidates had not been in close contact with the infected people, though they had taken masked rides on airplanes with them. As a result, neither candidate currently plans to quarantine for the recommended 14 days after potential exposure to the virus. Harris last tested negative for the virus Wednesday, their campaign said, while Biden was tested Thursday and no infection was detected.

Since leaving the hospital, Trump has resumed his near-daily mass rallies, heading often to states where the virus is rampaging to speak before thousands gathered in tight crowds and not wearing masks. Members of his family and other campaign surrogates have also been meeting with large crowds.

Biden and Harris have also begun regular travel, but they have intentionally avoided crowds, choosing other venues, including drive-in events where participants do not leave their vehicles and honk their approval.

As the candidates separately appeared before the nation Thursday, Biden received several questions about systemic racism and his involvement with the 1994 crime bill. Cedric Humphrey, a Black student from Harrisburg, Pa., told Biden that this election could be decided by Black voters under 30 who don't vote, which he himself is contemplating.

"Besides 'you ain't Black,' 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?" he asked, referring to a line Biden once used and apologized for. Biden responded by quoting the late congressman John Lewis, who called voting a "sacred opportunity," and then listed numerous proposals he has backed that would help Black Americans, including more funding for early education programs and historically Black colleges and universities, and start-up funds for Black entrepreneurs.

Biden said Trump deserves "a little but not a whole lot" of credit for his foreign policy, praising the recent deal with Israel but noting that North Korea continues to be a threat and China is "making moves."

"We find ourselves in the position where we're more isolated in the world than we've ever been," he said. " 'America first' has made America alone." Biden was asked what it will say about the country if he loses.

"Could say that I'm a lousy candidate, that I didn't do a good job," he answered. "But I hope that it doesn't say that we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds with one another as it appears, as the president wants us to be."

As his town hall progressed, Trump too fell into a rhythm, engaging with voter questions and charming one questioner who complimented his smile. He defended his recently released tax returns, calling the $750 he reportedly paid one year a "statutory" number.
"I am treated badly by the IRS, very very badly," he said.

He said he did not owe Russia money, would work to provide solutions for young immigrants currently working in the country without permanent authorization and promised a cheaper health-care system with better products but did not say how he would do it — or why he hasn't done it already.

He repeated the false claim that he is "always protecting people with preexisting conditions."

He currently supports a case in federal court that could throw out the Affordable Care Act and end those protections.

The final debate will take place Oct. 22, with plans for both candidates to meet in a direct debate format in Nashville, said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. , the co-chairman of the debate commission. That debate is expected to follow the same rules as the last meeting, with a roughly 12-foot distance between candidates and the audience required to wear masks.

The Trump and Biden campaigns are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss final preparations and any other proposed precautions, Fahrenkopf said, and NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, who will be the moderator, is expected to release a list of the six debate topics this week.

Washington Post, October 15, 2020 By Michael Scherer, Jenna Johnson and Josh Dawsey.


For the sake of truth, here next is the New York Times,

Six Takeaways From Thursday's Dueling Trump and Biden Town Halls

If the American people had to endure 90 minutes of cross-talk and interruptions last month at the first presidential debate, the alternative — clashing, simultaneous town hall events on Thursday with President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. — was not much of an improvement.

Mr. Trump tested positive for the coronavirus after the first debate and, citing safety, the presidential debate commission declared that the second debate, scheduled for Oct 15, would have to be virtual. Mr. Trump refused, so Mr. Biden scheduled a town hall on ABC. Mr. Trump then scheduled his own on NBC — at the exact same time.

"I figured, what the hell, we've got a free hour of television," the president said at a rally in North Carolina earlier on Thursday.

It's an open question whether Mr. Trump's gambit of trying to push Mr. Biden off the stage worked to his advantage. Mr. Biden's whole campaign strategy has been to fly at a low altitude toward victory. Mr. Trump might have made that easier with a rambunctious performance compared with Mr. Biden's — which one of Mr. Trump's advisers likened to "watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood," suggesting that a similarity to the beloved Fred Rogers was a bad thing.

Here are six takeaways from the night's dueling town halls.

Trump stomped on his own message with his refusal to denounce QAnon.

After Mr. Trump went through days of headlines and headaches as a result of his refusal to condemn white supremacy during the first presidential debate, he was ready on Thursday to offer a hedge-free denunciation. "I denounce white supremacy, OK?" he said to the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, almost before she had finished her question.

The rare forcefulness on the topic made Mr. Trump's mealy-mouthed refusal, minutes later, to disavow the false QAnon conspiracy theory all the more stark.

"I just don't know about QAnon," Mr. Trump claimed, despite having amplified a discredited claim by the theory's proponents just days ago.

Ms. Guthrie swiftly walked through how the far-right movement falsely claims Democrats are a satanic cult that practices pedophilia. "Can you just once and for all state that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?" she pressed.

"I do know they are very much against pedophilia — they fight it very hard," Mr. Trump said. Later, he repeated that line, almost with encouragement: "What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia. I agree with that. I do agree with that."

Mr. Trump has long been wary of speaking ill of supporters, and believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory are among his most ardent backers. "I understand they like me very much," he said over the summer, after noting that they "love our country."

Ms. Guthrie might have delivered the most memorable line of the night when she quizzed Mr. Trump about a recent retweet of a discredited conspiracy theory that Mr. Biden had orchestrated actions to have SEAL Team 6, one of the country's elite military units, killed to cover up the supposedly faked death of Osama bin Laden. Mr. Trump said with a shrug, "I'll put it out there."

"I don't get that," Ms. Guthrie replied. "You're the president. You're not, like, someone's crazy uncle."

Biden suggested making masks and vaccines mandatory.

The question of how to manage a pandemic that has overwhelmed the nation over the past six months is almost certainly the starkest difference between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, and that was clear in their town halls.

Mr. Trump minimized the danger of the virus, despite having been hospitalized after falling ill with it. He has poked fun at Mr. Biden for wearing a mask and has resisted the idea of making masks mandatory. Mr. Trump has theatrically removed his mask at his campaign rallies; Mr. Biden disclosed that before walking onstage, he had been wearing two masks, a preventive measure that some doctors say is effective.

Mr. Biden said that he himself would take a vaccine by the end of the year, and would urge other Americans to do so, "if the body of scientists say that this is what is ready to be done and it's been tested."

He also said he might support making vaccines mandatory — but acknowledged that such a measure would be difficult to enforce. "You can't say everyone has to do this, but it's like you can't mandate a mask," he said.

With that, Mr. Biden was walking onto tricky terrain. There is a long history of resistance to mandates in this country; think Obamacare and the individual mandate. And a significant number of Americans have resisted taking vaccines in the past; one of the big questions is how many Americans will take a coronavirus vaccine once it is developed, mandate or not.

"It is thorny," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic political consultant. "But he was realistic. People have to have confidence in a vaccine. So you can't play games like Trump."

Mr. Biden also said he expected Mr. Trump to take a coronavirus test before their next debate on Oct. 22, in accordance with the rules set down by the presidential debate commission. "Before I came up here, I took another test," he said. "I've been taking it every day."

He said he would not have come to the town hall if he had tested positive. "I didn't want to come here and not expose anybody," he said. "And I just think it's just decency to be able to determine whether or not you are you're clear."

Trump clung to an unpopular posture on masks and the pandemic.

Masks are politically popular. They are embraced as a public health necessity by experts and a broad cross-section of the American public. One of Mr. Trump's own advisers, Chris Christie, said Thursday he had been "wrong" not to wear a mask at the White House. But Mr. Trump, despite having recently contracted the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization for it, still cannot bring himself to arrive at a full-throated embrace of mask-wearing.

"I'm OK with masks — I tell people, 'Wear masks,'" he said. But he couldn't resist an addendum. "Just the other day," he said, he had seen a study that showed that people using masks were still contracting the virus.

He tried to twist the position of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's foremost infectious disease expert, on masks. And he dismissed the scientific consensus.

"People with masks are catching it all the time," he added.

It was exactly the kind of digression that has left Republicans frustrated: Six months, eight million cases and more than 215,000 deaths later, the president is still trying to bend the reality of the pandemic to his politics rather than the other way around.

The pandemic has upended American life like no other event, and death rates per capita are higher than in other developed nations, yet Mr. Trump continued to claim that his administration's response had been a success. "We're a winner," Mr. Trump declared, talking about "excess mortality." He added, "What we've done has been amazing, and we have done an amazing job."

Biden finally addressed court packing — sort of.

Mr. Biden did make one bit of news: After energetically avoiding the question recently, he signaled that he would announce before Election Day whether he supports expanding the number of seats on the Supreme Court. But he said he wanted to wait until after the Senate had acted on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This has been a difficult issue for Mr. Biden, and it seems likely that it wasn't a planned answer. Many Democrats have called for expanding the Supreme Court after Mr. Trump and Senate Republicans charged forward with filling the vacancy created by Justice Ginsburg's death, even though it was so close to the election. Should that happen, Mr. Trump will have placed three justices on the high court.

Mr. Biden has made it clear in the past that he did not support the idea. He has avoided the question during the campaign by saying he didn't want to play into Mr. Trump's hands and turn attention away from what Republicans were doing with the Ginsburg vacancy. But he agreed with the moderator, George Stephanopoulos, that voters had a right to know his views, and he set out a schedule for disclosing them.

It might not have been enough to put the issue behind him.

"His 'court-packing' response, or nonresponse, was a bit mystifying," Priscilla Southwell, a professor emerita of political science at the University of Oregon, said by email. "So, he says that the voters should know his position on this issue, but not until the confirmation process has concluded. By that time, a majority of voters will have already voted, including this voter."

Still M.I.A.: a second-term Trump agenda.

Mr. Trump had kind words for conspiracy theorists; he wouldn't say whether he had tested negative for the coronavirus on the day of the first debate ("Possibly I did. Possibly I didn't"); and he continued to undermine the legitimacy of the 2020 vote.

He did not have much to say, however, about a sweeping second-term agenda.

When Mr. Trump did speak about policy, it was mostly about relitigating his record. He was most fluent, and clearly most comfortable, when speaking about the economy and warning of the impact of electing Mr. Biden, saying the nation would "end up with a depression the likes of which you've never had."

He said he was negotiating a stimulus plan with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, even though they are not on speaking terms. "I'm ready to sign a big, beautiful stimulus," he said. As an aside, he also offered one of the all-time great understatements about his imprint on an often pliant G.O.P.

"Maybe I've changed the party a lot over the last three years," Mr. Trump said.


But the lack of a vision for the next four years — and for navigating the remaining months and years of the pandemic — is a glaring and unaddressed weakness for Mr. Trump. When Ms. Guthrie gave him a chance to make his closing pitch for another four years, he began, "Because I've done a great job." There were few other specifics beyond the classic Trumpian boast. "Next year," he promised, "is going to be better than ever before."

What if Biden loses?

Mr. Biden is in many ways an entirely conventional candidate for the White House, particularly compared with Mr. Trump. He has devoted a lifetime to elected office: 36 years in the Senate, two terms as vice president under Barack Obama, and three bids for the White House. So his willingness to answer questions about what he would do if he lost was striking: As a rule, that's a question candidates avoid. (The textbook answer: "I don't intend to lose.")

Perhaps it was because polls show him in a strong position against Mr. Trump. Or because Mr. Trump has recently been talking about losing. But when a voter asked about how he might try to influence a second Trump administration if he lost, Mr. Biden said he would probably go back to teaching, "focusing on the same issues relating to what constitutes decency and honor in this country." He added, "It's just a thing that got me involved in public life to begin with."

Mr. Stephanopoulos leaned in with a question: What will it say about the country if Mr. Trump is re-elected?

"Well, it could say I'm a lousy candidate and I didn't do a good job," Mr. Biden said. "I hope that it doesn't say that we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds with one another as it appears the president wants us to be."

New York Times, October 16,2020, By Adam Nagourney and Shane Goldmacher


October 16, 2020

Voices4America Post Script. 1. Joe ...clear, Truthful respectful, humble, aspires to be President of all Americans.. 2. Trump .. as the moderator said, "'You're the president, you're not like somebody's crazy uncle who can retweet whatever,'" I added some commentary from Twitter for you to read too. #BidenHarris2020

Here is some commentary from Twitter that I found worthwhile.

Mary Trump wins, of course.

General remarks.

Trump supporter, @Mercedesschlapp started the Mister Rodgers line of thinking. It didn't go well for Trump.

Morgan Freeman summarized well.

And yes, head to head, Biden on ABC beat Trump on NBC.

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