Town halls: Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Mister Rogers

Thursday night, two networks offered a choice at 8 p.m.: Town halls with former Vice President Joe Biden on ABC; and with President Donald J. Trump on NBC. If you could watch only one, which would it be?

President Donald J. Trump (left), former VP Joe Biden (Photo: ABC)

Me? Trump, of course, to maximize the chance of seeing or hearing something that would make my head explode.

But Your Favorite Columnist watched both, thanks to the miracle of the DVR.

Trump first. He was sharp, focused, and direct in his remarks. He smiled a lot and remembered to talk about some of his accomplishments, in addition to the economy — such as job growth and fantastic unemployment numbers before coronavirus, which he still blames on China, and criminal justice reform.

Mostly he was calm and collected, playing Doctor Jekyll, unlike his Mr. Hyde persona against Joe Biden. He occasionally sparred with NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie, who hectored him into possibly breaking news during the 60 minutes.

He all but admitted the $421 million debt reported by The New York Times when he said, “It’s a tiny percentage of my net worth,” and none is owed to Russia. He complained that the IRS treats him badly. 

Guthrie challenged him to release his tax returns and he gave the familiar response that he is under audit, and she said being under audit doesn’t mean you can’t release them. 

Under COVID-19 questioning, Trump said, “I’m OK with masks,” which he has said before, but at the same time said two people in the Kamala Harris campaign got sick, and they always wear masks. He seems incapable of making a flat declaration that face masks are good, and that is one of the things his acolytes love about him — he won’t be backed into a corner by Political Correctness, or by medical advice.

One of his favorite tactics is to feign ignorance, which allows his critics to suggest it’s not an act.

Guthrie challenged him to denounce white supremacy, which he has done before, but always with an unseen asterisk, it seems. Instead of a flat repudiation of racism, he wanted to know why Guthrie doesn’t ask Biden about Antifa. 

The only way to make the questions stop is to make a flat declaration, without a sneer. Just plain and simple, he should say, “As I have said before, I condemn white supremacy, racism, bigotry and hate of all types.”

He could have made a declaration like that about QAnon, but instead he feigned(?) ignorance. As president he should know this is a conspiracy organization that pushes stories that Democrats are blood-drinking, pedophile Satanists. 

Guthrie asked Trump why he retweeted something from QAnon that said Biden orchestrated a plot to assassinate Seal Team 6 to cover up the hoax that it had killed Osama bin Laden.

“I’ll put it out there,” Trump said, explaining it was a retweet, as if that absolves him from responsibility. “People can decide for themselves.”

Guthrie nearly fell off her stool and delivered the line of the night. “I don’t get that. You’re the president. You’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can retweet whatever.” 

There was more, but I have to leave space for Uncle Joe, carried by ABC from Philadelphia, moderated by George Stephanopoulos, who had to be thinking about the town hall hosted by NBC’s Lester Hold that was criticized for taking questions from about 13 Democrats, and three others. It was a too-friendly affair.

This one was very civil, with Biden as soft-spoken Mister Rogers, but Stephanopoulos pressed several times, trying to pin Biden down on packing the U.S. Supreme Court, which he had opposed in the past.

If the Republicans vote to seat Judge Amy Coney Barrett before election day, Biden said, “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.”

Stephanopoulos was not satisfied with that goo.

“No matter what answer I give you,” complained Biden, “if I say it, that’s the headline tomorrow.”

That’s true and it’s also true politicians almost always want to own tomorrow’s headline (unless they suspect what they want to do is unpopular). 

Pressed by Stephanopoulos, Biden said he would announce his decision before Election Day, “depending on how they handle this,” meaning Barrett. 

Put it out there, snap it back.

During the 90-minute appearance, he was focused, showing a command of detail, and stuttering a couple of times. He clearly is not the doddering dementia daddy who can barely speak that the right-wing noise machine says he is.

He said his tax increases (on the wealthy) will add jobs and to the GDP, he will not ban fracking, he will mandate neither vaccines nor mask wearing, if elected, but use powers of persuasion.

I caught what some might see as a gaffe. When he was asked if he would be vindictive in victory, he said the author of a book about presidents said he doubted Biden was Irish because he doesn’t hold a grudge. Some — not me — would take that as a slur.

He said the 1994 crime bill, which he helped author, was “a mistake,” even though it had been backed by the Congressional Black Caucus and Black mayors and halved the crime rate, because it also led to high rates of Black incarceration. 

He would not defund police, but get them more money and social workers, and promised to reverse Trump’s executive orders that targeted gays and transgender people.

Unlike last time, Biden did not look directly into the camera, but rather to people asking the questions.

I am hoping Trump and Biden face each other next week. We need another dose.

26 thoughts on “Town halls: Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and Mister Rogers”

    You went to Florida, We’re going to Rhode Island today. Beat the winter with the family visits.
    I didn’t get to see much T.V., but I did catch some of the highlites and lowlites. I still hate politics. I never liked the game of shuffling the deck with people at stake. Bring back the statesmen of the 50s & early 60s. ( sign )
    I had said early on that joey and the dims were playing the republicans for the fools that they are. The republican party never did learn how to fight, whereas, the dims are street fighters and will cut you with a dull serrated blade. If the republicans intend to win the country, they had better get busy. They have to unite the party and push the voters to get a landslide victory from the local offices up to the White House.
    As i always say. My battle cry is: VOTE REPUBLICAN ! and DRAIN THE SWAMP !

      1. Did I ever tell you how much I hate the cheap seedy side of dirty politics ?
        The republicans may actually be “growing a pair “!

  2. Good synopsis if there are voters still uncommitted which I would think not many left. Trump almost acted presidential and handled most questions as you say sharp and focused. What left me and I think one sizeable block of those left in undecided was the egotistical response to how little 421 million dollars was to him in his empire. This in the middle of a pandemic, job loss, savings being emptied and little concrete plans for the future. I can accept how he has accumulated his money but then I look at the Biden wealth and would like to see some similar questions about how and where outside of his Government salary did it come from. I find in my humble opinion that neither is fully qualified for the position, and their Vice Presidential candidates are even less a choice to be a heartbeat away especially Kamala Harris. I am down to not voting but tempted to vote for Trump just to see the flight from Hollywood and TV shows like the view. How I wish George Carlin was still alive to be the host interviewer.

    1. F T,
      you may remember watching Larry King, when he had a real talk show, way before Turner bought up everything. For regulars, Larry had Donald the businessman, and at times Ross, the possible politician.
      When the Japanese where buying up everything in the ?’80s?, Larry asked Trump lots of money questions. How much are you worth? How much is enough ? and other pointed questions. At the time, during the casino era I think, Trump was obviously loaded. He told Larry that he didn’t know the exact number because things change. The Japanese were buying up properties all over N.Y. and other large cities. His philosophy, the tide always turn. Let them buy everything. Let them pay top dollar. When their market turns, they’ll dump them, and I’ll buy them cheap. As for as “how much”, who knows? What will the dollar be worth in 5, 10, 50 years. The more the merrier. That matter of fact answer concerning Trump’s debt was typical Trump. Not a smart a%$! Not a wise guy. Typical Trump.

  3. Stu – I agree with Tom above – a splendid synopsis. I only differ with your last line regarding needing another dose. Personally, I think it would be an overdose. LoL

    Tom – regarding your desire to have Geo Carlin be a host…now that is a capitol idea, really! The only bad part is that we would never hear the interview due to all the f-ing bleeping going on as Geo does his thing.

  4. Of all the items in play, packing the Supreme Court gives me the most concern. FDR tried it, and now soon-to-be-President Harris…er, Biden is primed to try it. If such an event comes to pass and the USA ends up with 10 or13 or no matter how many justices, THAT will truly signal the end to participatory democracy and begin the reign of terror by law. Please keep in mind that among the early moves by Adolf Hitler was his co-opting the German judicial system. It was German law that said Jews were untermenschen, that forbade them from owing businesses, teaching in universities, et cetera. It was all LEGAL. Imagine what a radical left can achieve with the SCOTUS in its pocket.

    1. If the Dems rule, maybe we get 11 Justices. Eventually, the GOP wins and we get 13.
      Me? 3 is enough. 1 Dem, 1 Rep, 1 Ind. 1 Black, 1 White, 1 Asian. 1 man, 1 woman, 1 trans. 1 Christian, 1 Jew, 1 Muslim. 1 able, 1 disabled, 1 PTSD. Shall I continue? Lol

  5. Biden was fully wired and programmed and at times rattled off 6 or 7 minute manic-like answers. Maybe he’s
    bi-polar. A young Black-American looked weary and puzzled and hesitated when Stephanopoulos ask the man “does that answer your question?”

     Stephanopoulos tried to bail him out several times by breaking up Bidens’ uncanny ‘unlike-Biden’ concentration. Biden looked shocked “huh,” he uttered. To me it was surreal. He slowed down a little after a commercial break.

    Can you imagine training a cop in a life threatening situation, as Biden said, “shoot him in the leg.” Right out of  a Hopalong Cassidy western.

    Of course, George did not dare ask about the latest Blockbuster revelations about his son and him that Rudy Giuliano is leaking and promises there’s much more.  The FBI has had it for a year Rudy said.

    And why did Twitter and Facebook block distribution? Unbelievable!!  Is this the USA?!!

    That’s my take on the 45 minutes I watched.

    Did not see the other townhall.

  6. I agree with Anthony Clark. My only comment is that Guthrie showed no respect for the President and should have
    fallen off her stool. The media lack of respect for the office of the President is disgusting. We know they are biased
    and it surely shows.
    It’s a very important election to drain this SWAMP!
    Between the high crime rates in our cities, defunding the police, tearing down statues, rewriting history, no respect
    for our Flag, the Dems are all disgusting in my view!

    1. Barbara, I believe you are mistaken. The media does respect the office of the President. It is Trump that does not have their respect, and rightfully so. In fact Trump himself does not show respect for not only the office but for a majority of the people he is supposed to serve.

        1. Stude, I have no problem with you disagreeing. I just hope and pray that no matter what happens in the upcoming election we can continue to agree or disagree peacefully and with fear of repercussions.

  7. I’m very disappointed that there is little mention of the blatant hostility/bias of Guthrie asking near 40 questions and arguing with the guest (the US President) for 20 min, interrupting him LOUDLY, before taking a single question from the audience… a Town Hall? What the H… NBC. Disgraceful.
    Then, Suggleopolis gently “challenging” Biden on court packing and never once interrupting. Never gave a definitive answer to this or nay “hard” question. Mister Rogers is too kind. Biden has never been a “nice guy”. Ever. Remember “Dog faced pony soldier”? When challenged, Biden reacts with anger. What’s that a symptom of?

    So Trump gets a Dem operative with a clear bias. White supremacy? Again. Really? Is that the best NBC has? The same stale (and answered) questions? Pitiful.
    And Biden gets a former press secretary for Bill Clinton? What has happened to this country’s press corps.
    How about we have someone like Levin, or better yet Paul Gigot interview Biden? Same as having Guthrie “interview” Trump in what was to be a town hall format… Trump was ambushed. And forget about Wallace for balance, he is an embarrassment.

    PS folks: anyone that does not realize that a 10, 20 or even 50% leverage on real-estate is quite low needs to do a little reading. What mortgage did or do you have, 80% leveraged? Commercial or rental property mortgages can be 80% of the property value. C’mon man! :p

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