In lieu of a second debate, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump simultaneously held town halls on Oct. 15 at 8:00 PM. The Commission on Presidential Debates canceled the second debate because Trump refused to participate in a virtual event, despite his COVID-19 diagnosis a week prior to the event.
ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos hosted Biden’s town hall in Philadelphia, while Savannah Guthrie from MSNBC moderated Trump’s town hall in Miami. Biden’s event aired on only one network, but Trump’s aired on three different channels. Regardless of this difference, Nielsen, a global marketing research firm, reported that Biden’s town hall gained a larger audience, with approximately 14.1 million views. In contrast, across three channels, Trump caught 13.5 million viewers.
Many voters felt that the town halls built starkly different atmospheres: when facing challenging questions, Trump appeared agitated, defensive, and combative, repeating his campaign rhetoric; in contrast, Biden kept a calm demeanor, relying on policy-based arguments. While Biden’s event gave voters a chance to hear more about his positions, policies, and decisions he would make as president, Trump revisited the same points he has used throughout this campaign.
Trump attempted to steer focus away from his administration’s late COVID-19 response. When asked if he took a COVID-19 test before the first Presidential debate of 2020, Trump dodged the question, implying that a grieving military family may have given him the virus. He recounted, many of them “came up to me and they would hug me and they would touch me and I’m not going to not let them do it, to be honest with you. I don’t think that’s probably where it was caught, but maybe it was.”
When asked about the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory, Trump stated that he did not know what it was, refusing to condemn it once and for all. Pressed about his hesitancy to denounce white-supremacist groups, Trump pivoted to Antifa and other far-left groups.The President also repeated his 2016 campaign promise of replacing Obamacare, but refused to reveal the plan he would put into place.
Biden’s responses showcased his policies. Biden defined the differences between his climate-conscious plan and the Green New Deal, explaining that it would be unrealistic to try to get to zero carbon emissions by 2030. Instead, his plan calls for a more gradual transition by 2035. He also clarified that he would not ban fracking, but he plans to manage it carefully. Biden, confronted by a young Black man, attempted to define how he would support Black Americans, primarily focusing on the idea of building Black wealth in the US.
Notably, Biden admitted that he was wrong to vote for the 1994 crime bill. He reflected on the mistake, stating that at the time, the bill had the support of the Congressional Black Caucus and Black American mayors, admitting that “[racial justice issues] have changed drastically.”
The former Vice President, responding to a question about the LGBTQIA+ community, stated that “There should be zero discrimination,” and acknowledged that “too many transgender women of color are being murdered.” When questioned on “court packing,” or adding more justices to the Supreme Court to gain a more sympathetic ruling, Biden explained that his opinion depended on the Senate floor debate decision, as the possible expansion rests on Congressional not Presidential opinion; however, he stated that he would come out with a clear decision before election day. Biden also repeatedly emphasized his belief that Trump’s administration did not handle the COVID-19 pandemic to the best of its abilities.
The opponents will face each other one last time before election day, on Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. NBC’s Kristen Welker will moderate the event, only the second Black woman to serve as the sole moderator of a presidential debate. The topics will include fighting COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security, and general leadership.
(Sources: CNN, CNN Business, New York Times, ABC, Washington Post)