The coronavirus cannot be wished absent. Real people kept it real. Preparation — and the moderator — affairs.
President Donald Trump’s town corridor in front of undecided Pennsylvania voters offered an intriguing preview of how he may approach his first debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden in two weeks.
Tuesday night’s event on ABC featured predictable attack lines and indistinct promises of policy from Trump. But it also showcased, again, the president’s struggle to effectively defend his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of almost 200,000 Americans.
And while the president’s aides have been keen to shift focus off the virus, the town corridor made lucid that the crusade, now down to its last seven weeks, has remained a referendum on the president and the pandemic.
Here are other takeaways from a night that served as a tantalizing opening act for the first general election debate on Sept. 29:
Memorably, Trump said in February that the coronavirus would disappear “like a miracle.” His tone has not changed much seven months later.
The president put himself at odds with some basic scientific facts approximately the virus, including being dismissive of his own Centers for Disease Regulate and Prevention’s strong recommendation for Americans to use face masks.
“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, mentioning that waiters have struggled with their face coverings and did not like them.
Trump also tried to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he had tried to “play it down” when discussing the specter of Covid-19 to Americans earlier this year. Despite the fact that audio recordings of his comments have been released, Trump said: “Yeah, polite, I didn’t downplay it. I in reality, in many ways, I up-played it, in the case of action.”
He also, again, offered little acknowledgment of the historical injustices targeted at Black Americans.
“Polite, I’m hoping there’s not a race problem,” the president said.
Trump has in large part eschewed formal preparation for his debates with Biden, telling aides and allies that he believes his day job sparring with journalists will suffice. And Trump backers saw much that they liked in Trump’s performance Tuesday evening, including an possibility for the president to make a infrequent, whether uneven, display of empathy.
But, privately, some are worried that Trump will face the same destiny as many of his predecessors, who generally tend to grow complacent in the White House and can turn out to be flustered when they face their general-election rival for the first time.
While some have gently advised Trump to study up, the president has in large part ignored their advice for now, leaving allies holding their breath for Sept. 29.
Also read: Biden advisers stress importance of masks, staying outdoors to fight Covid
LONG-PROMISED POLICY PLANS
“We’re signing a health care plan inside two weeks,” Trump said on July 19. It would be introduced “confidently, prior to the end of the month,” he told reporters in early August.
No such plan has materialized, and few expect one to reach before the election.
Trump’s unfulfilled promises came into sharp relief all over the town corridor as Trump insisted he had a plan – but refused to share its details or provide an explanation for why he’d waited more than 3 1/2 years to unveil it.
“I have it all able, and it’s a much better plan for you – and it’s a much better plan,” he insisted.
Trump made a similar promise when it came to immigration, another issue on which he has been promising action for months without details materializing.
“So we are doing something with immigration that I think is going to be very strong because we wish people to come into our country,” he said. “And in a very short time, we’re going to be announcing it. And I think it’s going to have slightly an have an effect on.”
REAL PROBLEMS. REAL EMOTIONS.
The questions from self-described undecided voters were steadily more pointed than what the president is used to receiving.
There was once a diabetic man who explained that he had to dodge people who don’t social distance or wear a mask, a prime feature of the president’s crusade events. “Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?” asked Paul Tubiana, of Bethlehem, who said he had voted for Trump in 2016.
The president every so often began his answers before the questioners were done speaking, something Ellesia Blaque, of Wyomissing, did not allow. She asked the president how people with preexisting health conditions who work tough can stay insured. “Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” she sternly insisted.
And Flora Cruceta offered a question on behalf of her late mother, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who became a US citizen, asking, “What is going to you change to make more people, like me and like her, to turn out to be citizens and vote?
Trump, who has worked to minimize legitimate and unlawful immigration, promised another immigration plan that he said “in reality will be popular for all.” He gave the impression to mishear her remark that her mother died of breast cancer and steered the conversation to the coronavirus and the prospect of a Covid-19 vaccine.
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos pushed back against some of Trump’s comments but didn’t all the time challenge the president’s misstatements.
In answering a question approximately preexisting conditions, Trump said Democrats favor socialized medicine while his “strong” plan protects people with ailments they suffer before getting insurance.
“Mr. President, I have to stop you there. … No. 1, Joe Biden ran against Medicare for All in the primaries,” Stephanopoulos said.
Stephanopoulos added that the Trump administration is making an attempt to strike down the Obama administration’s health care law, which ensured coverage for people with preexisting conditions. He pointed out that Trump said in June 2019 that his health care plan would come out in two weeks and voters still haven’t seen it.
On another pocketbook issue, Trump claimed that Biden “wants to bring everybody’s taxes.”
Stephanopoulos went to the next question without noting that Biden has said no individual with taxable income of $400,000 or less would see a federal tax increase under his plans. Less than 2% of US households outline that level of income.
But, facing a moderator and not an opponent, Trump was once in a position to steadily set the tone for the discussion. He displayed his tendency for meandering answers that don’t directly address the subject at hand.
Despite pointed questions from voters approximately his record and a few follow-ups approximately his misstatements, Trump barreled on and have shyed away from the occasional outbursts that arise all over his White House briefings.
A debate in which Trump is face-to-face with Biden and has a strict time limit will be a different challenge entirely. For the first time, Trump will be placed on equal footing with Biden, making his preferred tactic of talking past difficult questions harder to pull off.