Democrats Should Welcome More Trump Town Halls

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Donald Trump looks distressed on stage at an NBC town hall

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.

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