President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on race relations, and approaches to a pandemic that has reshaped the nation.
Their vastly differing stances were to be expected.
But what stunned viewers most was the glaring difference in the way the two candidates were treated.
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The President was regularly challenged by NBC News host Savannah Guthrie. Not surprising that a conservative lawmaker would be grilled by the mainstream media.
But it was the softballs lobbed at Biden that surprised most critics. Biden was let completely off the hook.
Critics of the Democratic presidential candidate pointed out that ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos never once asked about the growing controversy surrounding Hunter Biden’s email leak.
ABC News’ avoidance of the story is part of an ongoing — and censored — denial by the media regarding the Biden family’s connection to international business scandals.
The story — and the censorship of the story — has easily been the biggest political news of the week. For those tuning into the Biden town hall, it was as if nothing ever happened. But not everyone was sold on the “dreamworld” ABC News set up for Biden.
No questions for Joe Biden about Hunter tonight… shocker.
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) October 16, 2020
Former White House Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell even weighed in, calling Stephanopoulos a “Democrat operative.”
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And if the bias isn’t yet obvious, try this: The Hill reporter Joe Concha claimed that after reviewing both town halls, Trump was asked 43. Biden was only asked 10 questions.
WOW. On Fox, media reporter @JoeConchaTV went through the transcript of the NBC town hall and counted the number of questions Savannah Guthrie asked the president — 43.
Then the number of questions from the voters at this so-called town hall: TEN. pic.twitter.com/TWNlr7GIHl
— Tim Graham (@TimJGraham) October 16, 2020
Coming just two and a half weeks before Election Day, the events Thursday night offered crystalizing contrasts and a national, if divided, audience. But it seemed unlikely to have produced a needed moment for a president running out of time or opportunities to appeal beyond his core base.
Trump was Trump. He was brash and confident, rebuking his FBI director, fighting with the Guthrie, complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount of doubt on the likeliness of fairness.
“And then they talk, ’Will you accept a peaceful transfer?’” Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will.’ But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”
Biden denounced the White House’s handling of the virus, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration in which he served. Though vague at times, he suggested he will offer clarity on his position on expanding the Supreme Court if Trump’s nominee to the bench is seated before Election Day.
After Biden’s 90-minute town hall event formally concluded, the candidate spent another half-hour taking questions from those in the audience who didn’t get an opportunity during the televised program.
Trump and Biden were supposed to spend Thursday night on the same debate stage in Miami. But that faceoff was scuttled after Trump’s coronavirus infection, which jolted the race and threatened the health of the American president.
Trump wouldn’t say whether he had tested negative on the day of his first debate with Biden on Sept. 29, allowing only, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.” Debate rules required that each candidate, using the honor system, had tested negative prior to the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.
He clarified revelations from a New York Times investigation that he has more than $400 million in debt and said reports are wrong that he paid little or no federal income taxes in most years over the past two decades.
Biden, meanwhile, took a far different, softer approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who has struggled with gaffes throughout his political career, stuttered slightly at the start of the program and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.
Holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic nominee brought a small card of notes on stage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. He said doing so would save, as he consulted his notes, “let me see … $92 billion.”
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Biden vowed to say before Election Day whether he will support expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court if Democrats win the presidency and the Senate and hold the House after November.
He has for weeks refused to answer the question but went further Thursday night. He said, “I’m still not a fan” of expanding the court, but said his ultimate decision depended on how the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court “is handled” and “how much they rush this.”
Biden also blasted Trump’s foreign policy, declaring that “‘America first’ has made ‘America alone’” and “This president embraces all the thugs in the world.” He turned introspective when asked what it would say if he lost.
“It could say that I’m a lousy candidate, that I didn’t do a good job,” Biden said. “But I think, I hope that it doesn’t say that we’re as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds as it appears the president wants us to be.”
Biden said he plans to participate in next week’s debate but he would ask Trump to take a COVID-19 test before arriving. “It’s just decency” for everyone around him, including non-candidates like camera operators, Biden said.
The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville.
The Associated Press contributed to this article