President Trump spoke favorably of an extremist conspiracy theory group, was skeptical about wearing masks, reprimanded his own FBI director and attacked the legitimacy of the 2020 elections on Thursday in a televised town hall forum, far from a targeted campaign call . Instead, he further fueled the country’s political divisions when his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., delivered a deliberate message anchored in public health concerns and promised to restore political norms.
Mr. Trump’s defensive and combative performance came on a night when a debate was supposed to take place between him and Mr. Biden, but it turned into a remote study of contrasts on various television networks after the President refused to participate in a virtual debate to participate.
On the central question of the election, the coronavirus pandemic, the two candidates appeared to inhabit not only different televisions, but also different universes. Mr Biden has made full adherence to strict public health guidelines the centerpiece of his candidacy, while Mr Trump himself continued to contradict his own administration’s recommendations on issues as fundamental as the use of masks – a pattern that is in their holdings enemy events persist on Thursday.
Mr Biden has covered virtually every aspect of the president’s handling of the health crisis, including his language on masks.
“A president’s words matter,” said Mr Biden. “When a president doesn’t wear a mask or makes fun of people like me when I wore a mask for a long time, people say, ‘Well, it doesn’t have to be that important.'”
In perhaps his cutting-edge remarks, Mr. Trump repeatedly declined to oppose QAnon, a pro-Trump internet community that law enforcement agencies have described as a potential threat to domestic terrorism. The President stated that he had no knowledge of the group and therefore could not refuse it, but then showed specific knowledge of one of his central conspiracy theories that concern pedophilia and is completely false.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said Mr. Trump. “I know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight very hard against it. “
When NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie urged Mr. Trump to reject the community’s essential worldview, describing some of its most extreme and false elements, the president gave no reason: “I don’t know,” he insisted. “No, I do not know.”
At the moment Mr. Trump was effectively defending a corner of the internet, Mr. Biden, the former vice president, spoke on corporate tax rates and quoted business analyst Moody’s, underscoring the extraordinary gap between the two candidates, their worldviews, guidelines and connections to actual reality.
“It’s about the growth of the economy,” Biden said, a political platitude that would fit into any ordinary election year – and in some ways an example of Mr Biden’s central election promise: restore stability and some degree of predictability to the white House.
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Less than three weeks into the presidential campaign, there were no signs from the events at City Hall that any of the candidates were deviating from the political tracks they had set months ago and that Mr Biden was approaching a number of generally popular economic views and issues public health and Mr Trump improvised freely, admitting no fault in his own record and hurling various forms of provocation.
In fact, their contrasting presentations created the impression that if the two men had stood on stage together on Thursday night, they might have developed similarly to their previous debate in which Mr. Trump cursed and interrupted Mr. Biden for almost an hour and a half .
Sitting in a chair at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden attempted to connect with the electorate dispersed in a largely empty auditorium by constantly referring to his plans to face the nation’s great challenges including the coronavirus and school and reopening of business. He closed many of his lengthy responses hoping to have answered voters’ questions and stayed after the event to chat with attendees.
In contrast, Mr. Trump often showed impatience with Ms. Guthrie’s lingering questions when they competed against each other at an outdoor art museum in Miami. The president sounded particularly annoyed when she asked him to condemn white supremacy (“I denounce white supremacy, OK?” He replied). And when Ms. Guthrie asked him several times for specific information about his recent battle with the coronavirus, the president went largely to generalities and declined to say whether he had taken a virus test on the day of his first debate with Mr Biden.
“I probably did, and I took a test the day before and the day before,” Trump said, adding, “I may have done it.” I may not have. “
When asked about a recent New York Times investigation that found he had paid minimal or no income taxes for years, Mr. Trump attacked the coverage, falsely claiming it was “illegal”. He denied owing the Russians and seemed to briefly promise Mrs. Guthrie that he would “let you know who I owe money to,” but his phrase was not very clear and at one point he delivered some sort of miniature filibuster, by listing various properties that it possesses.
In his appearance, Mr Biden also faced a number of issues that challenged him throughout the election campaign, including his views on the Supreme Court enlargement and his records on the 1994 Crime Act.
Mr Biden recently dodged questions on the subject of court packaging and insisted that he instead focus on potential judicial threats to the Affordable Care Act and, at times, act brusquely when pushed on the subject. But on Thursday, when questioned by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, he appeared to say that he would clarify his position on the expansion of the Supreme Court before election day. “You have the right to know where I am,” he said, “and you have the right to know where I am before they vote.”
Oct. 15, 2020 at 11:44 am ET
And he seemed briefly to acknowledge that it was a mistake to endorse the Crime Act, a measure in which he was central, although he immediately pointed out that the perceived problem was how states were putting it into effect.
“Yes, it was,” he said when asked if it was a mistake to endorse it. “But here came the mistake: the mistake came about what the states were doing on the ground.”
There was virtually no overlap in the treatment of the coronavirus issue by Mr Trump and Mr Biden.
The former vice president noted his own consultations with medical experts and stressed his respect for the scientific assessment of the fight against the virus. He said if scientists signed off on a vaccine, they would get one and encourage state and local authorities to promote it, even if he recognized the limits of a vaccine mandate. And he came across some of Mr. Trump’s more eccentric comments on the virus, such as his suggestion that injecting disinfectant might help fight it.
“Crazy stuff,” said Mr. Biden. “I’m not kidding, however, I mean he actually said these things.”
Even as the coronavirus continues to permeate the country, Trump insisted the United States go “around the corner” on the health crisis and urged people to use the word “cure” in relation to emerging therapies to treat the virus although no treatment that matches this description has occurred.
The president once again criticized the heads of state for ordering lockdowns and selected Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was recently the target of a kidnapping of anti-government militants, for personal attacks. And although Mr Trump briefly expressed his support for the wearing of masks, he was quickly ambiguous.
“You have two stories on the masks,” said Mr Trump, falsely claiming that most people who wear masks become infected with the virus.
On the grounds that the United States did well enough in the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Trump swung several sheets of paper as he cited figures that showed rising case numbers in Europe, including at least one document that showed a screenshot of a graphic from Fox News .
Perhaps especially, Mr Trump said he would pledge to a peaceful transfer of power after the election – a promise he refused to make in the initial debate – though he was quick to add the qualification that he would insist on an “honest election” and would raise unfounded theories about electoral fraud. When Ms. Guthrie pointed out that FBI Director Christopher A. Wray had said there was no evidence of such widespread voter misconduct, the president replied, “Then he’s not doing a very good job.”
The unusual split-screen spectacle arose, like so much in the 2020 campaign, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and Mr Trump’s resistance to adherence to the public health guidelines set by scientists and medical experts in his own administration. After the president tested positive for the coronavirus this month, the Presidential Debate Commission announced that the second scheduled meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Biden would be virtual for security reasons. Mr Trump refused to attend such an event, which resulted in its cancellation.
Mr Biden had less to lose on this relatively subdued evening as he is consistently ahead of Mr Trump in national and swing state polls as millions of Americans are already casting their ballots through early and absentee voting.
The events in the duel at City Hall took place in Mr. Trump’s first week after his three-day hospital stay in early October and his recovery the next week on the campaign. The president was determined to return to campaigning as usual, despite the apparent severity of the health problems he faced. Aware that time was running out, he may have endeavored to dispel voters’ perceptions that he might be physically frail.
In his previous election campaign events, Mr Trump has not become frail or generally aware of the pandemic. His campaign did not enforce a policy of wearing masks or social distancing, which has resulted in overcrowded events in airport hangars in states like Iowa and Florida facing rising caseloads. The president has continued to predict that despite ample evidence to the contrary, the virus will soon go away.
The Biden campaign, which is already calling the race a referendum on how Mr Trump is handling the public health crisis, has heightened the contrast between Mr Trump’s indifference to health policies and the former Vice President’s more cautious approach.