Trump-Biden town halls: Eight key moments from the live election events

Paulette Dale is the Ken Bone that 2020 deserves

Justin Vallejo,Alex Woodward
Friday 16 October 2020 12:43
Top moments from Trump and Biden's dueling town halls

The duelling town halls between Donald Trump and Joe Biden were almost the virtual debate that never happened.

While the second clash between the two was officially cancelled, the unofficial clash occurring in tandem across NBC and ABC gave an equally insightful look at vastly different candidates.

To hear them speak without being interrupted by the other on the debate stage, it only took them interrupting each other on prime time.


Donald Trump was not prepared for host Savannah Guthrie, who came prepared to corner the president

The start of the town hall could have easily been a debate between Donald Trump and Savannah Guthrie as the host of Today set a furious pace of questions and follow-ups that set the combative tone. When the president was cornered, he tried to fight his way out.

"You're not someone's crazy uncle": Savannah Guthrie challenges Trump over Bin Laden conspiracy

Asked why he would tweet out a conspiracy theory that Joe Biden had SEAL Team 6 members killed to cover up a fake Osama bin Laden assassination, the president at first tried to brush it off as something he just put out there.

“I don’t get that,” Ms Guthrie said. “You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.”

She also pressed him on whether he took a Covid test on the night of the first debate. Mr Trump told her to ask his doctors, then admitted he probably did. When she pushed on denouncing white supremacy after Mr Trump repeatedly denounced white supremacy, she pushed again, saying it sounded like the president was dodging.  

“Are you listening?” Mr Trump fired back as his irritation grew, questioning why she didn’t ask Mr Biden to denounce Antifa.

When Ms Guthrie observed that Mr Trump was, in fact, the one there and not Mr Biden, the president responded “so cute”. The escalation only ended after the town hall moved onto audience questions.

 Donald Trump stands by his record on Coronavirus, and likely wouldn’t do things differently  

Multiple questions touched on Mr Trump’s pandemic response and his personal experience of Covid. The balance of his answers suggests he has no regrets in how he handled either.

When asked why he publicly played down the severity of the coronavirus while privately speaking about its dangers, Mr Trump was defiant.

Trump 'doesn't know' if he took test on debate day despite guaranteeing he'd done one

“I knew it was a big threat, at the same time I don’t want to panic the country,” Mr Trump said. “No, there is not a middle ground. You have to be safe, you have to be vigilant and you have to be smart.”

What is considered smart, however, is up for debate. Mr Trump said catching Covid did not change his opinions on wearing a mask, saying that experts differed on their effectiveness.

Mr Trump refused to say if he had pneumonia, but said his lungs were “a little bit different, a little bit, perhaps infected”. An infection of the lung could otherwise be known as pneumonia. He also dodged the question of whether he supports herd immunity, saying the “cure cannot be worse than the problem itself”.

Donald Trump won’t directly denounce groups when challenged

The president had a repeat performance of his failure from the first debate to denounce white supremacy, but on this occasion stumbled over the QAnon conspiracy theory.

The president’s biggest error against Mr Biden was his inability to directly say: “I denounce white supremacy”. He had previously said it. He came out the day after the debate and said it. And campaign aides worked overtime to say the president replied “sure” when asked if he would denounce white supremacy.

Trump refuses to condemn QAnon saying they care very strongly about paedophilia

But he didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t say the words in the moment.

At the town hall, he came prepared and denounced white supremacy immediately and often. But when he was asked to denounce QAnon he wouldn’t do it. The president maintained the line that he doesn’t know much about them other than they’re against paedophilia.  

It could be that he comes out tomorrow and denounces the group if continually challenged. But in the moment, the president skirted the line and refused to make a definitive statement.

Donald Trump low-key verified key parts of The New York Times reporting on his tax returns

Reading between the lines of his responses, Mr Trump seemed to dance around the edges of confirming The New York Times’ reporting of his tax returns.

When asked who he owes $421m to that is to come due within the next four years, the president said publishing details of his tax returns was illegal.

Trump insists he doesn't owe Russia money at town hall

“What they did is illegal, number one, also the numbers are all wrong,” Mr Trump said.  

If the numbers were wrong and The New York Times didn’t have the correct figures from the tax returns, then how is it illegal under Mr Trump’s framing? It would just be more “fake news” rather than an illegal disclosure of confidential financial documents.

He also then went on to confirm that he does owe money, but it is very small and very normal.

“No, I don’t owe Russia money. I owe very, very small, it’s called mortgages…” he said. “Number one, its’ a very small amount of money… it’s a tiny per cent of what I’m worth. I’m very underleveraged.”

BONUS: Paulette Dale is the Ken Bone of 2020

Paulette Dale is the Ken Bone that 2020 deserves.

Trump surprised by flirtatious town hall questioner

Ms Dale flirting with Mr Trump and his “great smile” is the red-sweater moment of this election cycle, carrying the torch from Mr Bone’s viral moment during the 2016 town hall debate.

Mr Bone, incidentally, has this year endorsed Libertarian Jo Jorgensen for president.


You'll get an answer on 'court-packing'

While some Democrats have called for the US Supreme Court to expand the number of seats on the court, Republicans have aggressively sought to fill the limited seats with conservative justices, while confirming conservative judicial appointments across the US.

Biden tells town hall he will reveal plans on court-packing before the election

Biden, refusing to take bait about the future of the high court as Senate Republicans push through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation in the days before Election Day, said voters “have a right to know where I stand.” He’ll give them an answer after her likely promotion.

Parts of the crime bill were a 'mistake' – Joe Biden has a remedy

Biden doesn’t regret authoring the 1994 crime bill, but he has admitted that it was a “mistake” to support policies like mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and other measures that have established the legacy of mass incarceration. “Things have changed drastically” since its passage, he said. He has since called for rehabilitation efforts and to scrub marijuana offences from people’s records. He also stressed that, despite attacks from Trump and his allies, he’s not calling to “defund the police” – he stressed how funding should target de-escalation tactics and other so-called “community policing” efforts, relying on input from Black communities.

Biden says drug users should not be jailed as he admits crime bill was a mistake

His discussion about his legislative failures also followed a question from a young Black progressive voter about his vision for Black Americans beyond his controversial statement that “you ain’t Black” and what he would do to encourage their participation “in a system that fails to protect them”.

It struck at a chasm between young voters and the former vice president, but his lengthy response – policies from increasing funding for low-income schools and HBCUs to assistance for first-time homebuyers – pointed to institutional failures that have prevented young people of colour from gaining a foothold as America’s wealthy dominate politics and power.

A study in contrast

This was not a Trump town hall. Even as the cameras pulled away and the microphones were off, Biden continued to answer questions from the limited audience in Pennsylvania. He gave thoughtful, lengthy answers about policy and vision, and mistakes and failures, and punctuated several replies to ask if he had answered the person’s question.  

Asked what he will say if he loses, he said: “You could say I’m a lousy candidate and didn’t do a good job … But I hope that it doesn't say that we are as racially, ethnically and religiously at odds with one another as ... the president wants us to be.”

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