President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden squared off, in a way, Thursday night in dueling televised town halls that showcased striking differences in temperament, views on racial justice, and approaches to a pandemic that has reshaped the nation. Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden competed for TV audiences in dueling town halls instead of meeting face to face for their second debate as originally planned.
Biden, appearing nearly 1,930 kilometers (1,200 miles) away, denounced the White House’s handling of the virus that has killed more than 217,000 Americans, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration.
Trump, meanwhile, was defensive and insisted that the nation was turning the corner on the virus, even as his own battle with the disease took center stage.
Coming just two and a half weeks before Election Day, the 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.
The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in the men’s tone was immediate and striking.
Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, rebuking his FBI director, fighting with the host, Savannah 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.
Biden, meanwhile, took a far different, softer approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, 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.
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.
The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump-backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following his COVID-19 diagnosis.