Many Liberals were understandably upset that NBC decided to give Donald Trump an hour for a town hall on Thursday night, which overlapped with the 90-minute ABC town hall for Joe Biden. The two presidential candidates were originally scheduled for debate, but Trump resigned because he did not accept the Debate Commission’s decision after his recent battle with Covid-19 that it should be a virtual event. This led to ABC offering Biden a town hall. Trump, wanting to take his rival apart, asked for NBC City Hall and received it.
The whole sad spectacle seemed to be an example of Trump pushing himself into the center of attention again. How Washington Post Columnist Margaret Sullivan complained“NBC News keeps doing what so many mainstream media outlets have done: allowing Trump to steal the limelight and draw attention to his terms.” Cheryl Gould, a former NBC News executive, spoke to many when she did wrote“I am dismayed – rather disgusted – by NBC’s decision to broadcast Trump’s ‘I will not obey the rules’ so let me create the town hall of my own rules over Biden’s.”
Behind this criticism lurks justified anger over how the media helped Trump in 2016 by uncritically broadcasting his rallies. Trump was good for ratings, so CNN and Fox were giving him inordinate airtime, which both spread Trump’s message and, equally importantly, drowned out Hillary Clinton’s ability to represent her case.
But 2020 has a very different dynamic than the last presidential election. Trump was a 2016 challenger who sold himself out and was often willing to say wildly contradicting things to win voters. He was selling a dream – and the free media he received helped him close the sale.
This year, Trump is selling less a dream than a nightmare. He’s been president for almost four years and the country is in ruins. His recent hospital stay at Covid-19, which has also infected many White House employees and senior Republicans, only underscores his track record.
As a beleaguered president, Trump is not supported by more television time. In the first presidential debate, his bellicose behavior, in which both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace were constantly berated, made Trump look bad. That debate seems to have contributed to Biden’s surge in the polls, where he now has a lead of more than 10 percent on the poll 538 Aggregation of Surveys.
Trump was a little less rude at NBC City Hall, but he continued to be irritable and baffled. City hall was a disaster for Trump. This was in large part due to questions asked by hostess Savannah Guthrie, who firm, informed, and quick to refute Trump’s lies. In striking contrast to Chris Wallace, Guthrie Trump didn’t want to run over her. As Molly Olmstead of slate closely observedGuthrie was “a cheerful but firm interrogator who kept coming back to the facts and details of Trump’s responses.” Besides Guthrie, the common people who asked questions were sharp and focused.
As Alex Shephard of The new republic Remarks“It’s now perfectly clear that NBC News did Biden a favor by booking the president and forcing a settlement. A rattling Trump spent his town hall sweating like Patrick Ewing and yelling at voters who dared ask him about his file. He stated that he may have tested positive for Covid-19 before his debate with the former vice president and that x-rays showed possible coronavirus-related lung damage. ”
Trump denounced the wearing of masks (spread of the untrue claim that a study shows that “85 percent of people who wear masks catch it.”) He also had problems answering questions its foreign debt (suggesting that $ 400 million isn’t a huge debt and that it hasn’t been overfunded), be alleged tax avoidance, and be nonexistent health plan.
The most memorable moment of the first debate was Trump’s unwillingness to denounce white supremacy. Guthrie returned to the question and prompted him to make a clear, if obviously coerced and insincere condemnation. But she followed up with a question about the conspiracy cult QAnon she exactly described as “that theory that Democrats are part of a satanic pedophile ring and that you are the savior of it.”
In a long exchange, Trump refused to denounce QAnon and actually confirmed his core beliefs. The whole back and forth reveals:
Trump card: I don’t know about QAnon.
Guthrie: I just told you.
Trump card: Well you told me, but what you tell me doesn’t necessarily make it true. I hate to say that. I do not know anything about it. I know they are very much against pedophilia, they fight very hard against it. But I don’t know anything about it.
Guthrie: They believe it is a satanic cult run by the deep state.
Trump card: I’ll tell you what I know I know about Antifa and I know about the radical left and how violent and vicious they are and I know how they burn down Democratic, not Republican-run cities.
Guthrie: Republican Senator Ben Sasse said, “QAnon is insane and real leaders call conspiracy theories conspiracy theories.”
Trump card: He can be right.
Guthrie: Why not just say it’s crazy and not true?
Trump card: I just don’t know about QAnon.
Guthrie: You know it.
Trump card: I dont know. I dont know. No, I don’t know … just let me say what I hear about it is that they are very strong against pedophilia and I agree, I agree.
Guthrie: OK, but there is no such thing as a satanic pedophile cult made by …
Trump card: I have no idea. I do not know anything about it.
Guthrie: Do not you know that? OKAY.
Trump card: No I do not know that. And you don’t know that either.
Guthrie: OK, you retweeted this week –
Trump card: Why don’t you ask me about Antifa? Why don’t you ask me about the radical left? Why don’t you put questions to Joe Biden – why doesn’t he judge Antifa? Why does he say it doesn’t exist?
Guthrie: Because you’re here before me.
Trump card: So pretty.
Those final derogatory words, “so cute,” were spat in anger. Throughout the exchange, Trump dealt with his usual mix of whataboutery and feigned ignorance. In reiterating the lie that QAnon is working to stop pedophilia rather than smear innocent people, Trump is clearly joining a deranged fringe group. Just as the first debate for Trump’s embrace of white supremacy will be remembered, this town hall was defined by its endorsement from QAnon.
A Trump campaign advisor summed up City Hall from tell The daily beast that Trump “wasn’t yelling all along, he wasn’t pissing himself off … so this was the best we’d hoped for.” But the best they could hope for won’t win over many voters.