The forums were held instead of the second presidential debate which was cancelled after the Biden campaign refused to postpone the contest over the president's catching COVID and Trump refused to take part in a virtual debate.
The event was preceded by a heated media fuss with over a hundred Hollywood and TV community celebrities urging NBC to reschedule, postpone, or even cancel its town hall with President Trump which was timetabled to overlap Biden's ABC appearance. The joint letter, published by Variety, claimed that NBC was "enabling the president's bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public".
Trump Bombarded With Problematic Issues From Outset
The two simultaneous town halls have exposed stark differences between the media's treatment of each of the presidential contenders, according to Dr Harvey Schantz, professor of political science at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
"Trump, from the outset, was predominantly confronted with difficult questions and little time that did not give him much opportunity to discuss policies", he says. "Biden had a more leisurely opportunity to talk in depth about his policy proposals, on taxes and fossil fuels, and to reflect upon things he might have done differently, particularly with reference to the crime bill".
I just switched to NBC since ABC is in a commercial. Savanah Guthrie has interrupted Trump in these 60 seconds more than Stephanopulos has done to Biden in 40 mins. NBC is an interrogation. ABC is a picnic.— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) October 16, 2020
The professor highlights that NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie brought up five problematic topics for Trump at the outset:
· Trump's health after COVID;
· the holding of an outdoor and indoor reception where many people came down with coronavirus;
· the president's "lukewarm denunciation of white supremacy";
· his alleged support of a conspiracy theory regarding the death of Osama Bin Laden;
· and if Trump would accept the peaceful transfer of power.
In response, the president dotted the i's and crossed the t's with regard to most questions, however, he did not explain as to why he re-tweeted the theory alleging that Barack Obama staged Osama bin Laden's killing. "That was a retweet, that was an opinion of somebody … I'll put it out there, people can decide for themselves", the president said. "I don't get that", Guthrie insisted. "You're the president, you're not like someone's crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever".
"The only time Trump was able to shine was when he talked about the creation of jobs, before COVID and as the recovery has proceeded, and his success so far in shepherding through a third conservative Supreme Court nominee", Schantz notes.
Trump appeared uncomfortable and annoyed with the aggressive questions and real-time fact checking by Guthrie, suggests David Canon, chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It appears that the president was on the defensive from the start as he tweeted ahead of the event: "I will be doing a major fake NBC News Town Hall Forum, live tonight from Miami, at 8:00 pm… I wonder if they'll treat me as well as Sleepy Joe? They should!"
However, after walking offstags, Trump reportedly said as cited by a White House source: "I expected worse. She tried, God bless her...she tried".
WH source tells @OANN that after walking offstage at townhall, Trump said to everyone, "I expected worse. She tried, God bless her...she tried."— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) October 16, 2020
Biden Treated With Kid Gloves
For his part, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden had the more effective evening, according to Canon: "He avoided making any big mistakes, he was comfortable in answering most of the questions, and he was polite to audience members, regularly asking them to make sure he had answered their questions", the academic observes.
However, what struck Schantz is that at no point did ABC's George Stephanopoulos bring up the controversial financial dealings of Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, which have popped up in the press and on social media following a recent exposé by the New York Post.
#BREAKING: As expected, @ABC News and chief anchor/former Clinton official George Stephanopoulos made sure that there was NOT A SINGLE question about Hunter Biden at this #BidenTownHall.— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) October 16, 2020
Another example of censorship and collusion.
Likewise, the ex-vice president was allowed to once again dodge the Supreme Court-packing question, remarks Rory McShane, a Republican political consultant and strategist, referring to the reported Democratic plan to appoint more liberals to the conservative dominated Supreme Court to recover the left-leaning majority.
"The American mainstream media is an asset of the deep state and never in the history of our republic have we seen such a blatant attempt to steal, shade, and censor the election", McShane says. "It is sad to see the media continually asking Joe Biden the most softball questions. At the same time, they continue to waste the president's time asking him if he's denounced white supremacy, something he has done several times in the past. They pick on and dissect every little thing the president says while they gloss over or explain away the severe gaffes and gaps in Joe Biden's statements".
Has Town Hall Changed the Balance of Power?
Summarising his observations from the town hall duel, Schantz opines that both candidates presented themselves well: "Trump was able to relate to the audience and Biden showed that he had command over a wide range of policy issues".
The political scientist notes that "the audience members, by and large, were very open and receptive to both presidential candidates, Trump's audience seemed to really like him and Biden continued to answer questions after the town hall was over".
"Joe Biden's campaign should pray that no one saw either of these town halls", argues Chris Barron, conservative strategist and president of Right Turn Strategies. "President Trump delivered his best performance ever - the quintessential happy warrior - against a combative Savannah Guthrie moderating. On the other hand, Joe Biden mumbled and bumbled his way through a debate where the moderator never once challenged him".
While Trump came off as "the happy warrior", Biden came off as "the confused great uncle", according to Barron.
In any event, it is too early to know how the general public responded to the events tonight, remarks David Canon: "I think it is safe to say this didn't change anything, which clearly helps Joe Biden given his 10-point lead in the polls".