Thursday’s dueling town halls between Joe Biden and President Trump couldn’t have yielded a greater contrast with Biden receiving a rhetorical warm blanket for 90 minutes from ABC. Seeing as how they refused to bring up recent bombshell reporting on Hunter Biden, it was an abject failure. Making matters worse, ABC greased the skids with eight audience questions from the left, one neutral, and two from the right for a total of 11.
Meanwhile, the President faced what our friend Steve Cortes called “a political knife fight” on NBC. My colleague Nick Fondacaro has a full wrap-up on that here.
Unsurprisingly, ABC didn’t take the advice Rich Noyes and I laid out Thursday morning as to how they should have conducted themselves. We noted that “most of the questions should challenge Biden from the right” seeing as how Trump’s September 15 ABC event consisted of eight audience questions on the left, five neutral, and one to the right.
As for chief anchor and former Clinton flack George Stephanopoulos’s interactions with Biden, he interjected 19 times with five comments, questions, or statements from the left, ten neutral, and four on the right. This was in stark contrast to the 50 times he engaged Trump with 38 on the left, 12 neutral, and none to make a right-leaning point.
To ABC’s credit, they went almost straight to audience questions within the first two minutes (as they did with Trump). But like they did with the President, Biden’s first question was on the left:
Mr. Vice President, every day, my wife and I are in disbelief at the lack of coordinated federal action on COVID-19. We know that your administration would follow the science. My question for you is two parts. First, looking backwards to when this country first became aware of COVID-19, what would following the science have meant in terms of actual policy? And then, looking forward, what would your administration do in terms of following the science with real concrete policies that haven't been done by the current administration?
The most absurd audience question was the penultimate one with a first-timer voter and mother of an eight-year-old transgender child wondering what Biden would do to “reverse” the Trump administration’s “dangerous and discriminatory agenda and ensure that the lives and rights of LGBTQ people are protected under U.S. law.”
In a close second, a Democrat bemoaned how Supreme Court nominations have become “polarized” (thanks to Republicans) and pressured Biden on “ideas from people like Pete Buttigieg and others to put in place safeguards” within our federal judiciary (read: court-packing).
To read that question and others from the left, click “expand”:
CEDRIC HUMPHREY: Many people believe that the true swing demographic in this election will be black voters under the age of 30. Not because they'll be voting for Trump, but because they won't vote at all. I myself have had this exact same conflict. So, my question for you then is, besides “you ain't black,” what do you have to say to young black voters who see voting for you as further participation in a system that continues to not protect them?
ANGELICA POLITARHOS: What is your view on the crime bill that you wrote in 1994, which showed prejudice against minorities? Where do you stand today on that?
NATHAN OSBURN: Our nation's first Supreme Court gave its first ruling just two blocks here from 1791 to 1800 and it’s become more polarized since then. Merrick Garland didn't get a hearing of all 2016 and Amy Coney Barrett is being pushed through at the last minute, though millions have already voted. So, what do you think about ideas from people like Pete Buttigieg and others to put in place safeguards that will help ensure more long-term balance and stability and what do you say to LGBTQ and others who are very worried right now about erosions of their rights and our democracy as a whole?
ANDREW LEWIS: Mr. Vice President, my father Drew Lewis served as secretary of transportation under Ronald Reagan in his first term. And some of his closest allies and friends were Democrats, including House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ted Kennedy. Sadly, today, we have highly partisan and dysfunctional governance and I believe President Trump is primarily responsible for creating this toxic environment. As president, how will you avoid the temptation to exact revenge and instead take the high road and attempt to restore bipartisanship, civility, and honor to our democracy?
MICHELE P. ELLISON [“Republican who’s voted for Democrats but you’re not sure” in 2020] In a 2012 report of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics, fracking was discussed and its possible implications for the waterways from the commonwealth to the Gulf. Fracking has made people sick and killed wildlife in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and small business development centers have already begun to transition people away from fossil fuels. What industries that are not harmful to human health and the environment are you planning for southwest Pennsylvania and the nation?
KEENAN WILSON: You say that you committed to entering this race after the events of Charlottesville in 2017. I assume that that feeling that prompted you to run will not go away once the results are determined. So, hypothetically, if you lose, how will you use your platform to urge President Donald Trump and those rallying behind him towards the ideals of a more perfect union?
ABC gave us two adversarial questions to Biden with one coming thanks to Trump 2016 voter Anthony J. Argirakis on Biden’s promise to repeal the Trump tax cuts. And in the second, Trump 2016 voter Mark Hoffman asked Biden to give Trump’s “foreign policy...some credit” seeing as how “peace is breaking out all over the world.”
Pivoting to Stephanopoulos, he was almost non-existent with Biden compared to his incessant interruptions of Trump. His first add-on came from the right to note that, while Biden expressed concern about the coronavirus in January, there’s “no record...calling for social distancing, limited social gatherings, [and] mandatory masks.”
It was downhill from there as he went onto press Biden from the left on court-packing, having a Biden Justice Department investigate Trump, policing, and what a Biden loss would say about America. Here were those (along with some of his notable interjections we rated as not leaning one way or the other) (click “expand”):
Let me ask another follow-up on the Crime Bill. It also funded 100,000 police back in 1994. You’ve often said that more cops clearly mean less crime. Do you still believe that?
Right now, we have a systemic problem. How do you get the kind of policing, prevent the kind of policing that —
And how about that question of expanding the court. Here is what you said exactly one year ago tonight at a Democratic debate. You said: “I would not get into court-packing, I would not pack the court.” That's not what you're saying now. Is the nomination of Judge Barrett reason enough to rethink your position?
But how about the question of political accountability? Is there some tension between that and bringing people together? You know, Robert Mueller laid out a lot of the evidence of possible obstruction of justice by President Trump. What would a Biden Justice Department do with that evidence?
Mr. Vice President, if you lose, what will that say to you about where America is today?
Mr. Vice President, as you know, President Trump had a town hall meeting tonight, as well. During that town hall meeting, he was asked several times whether he took a COVID test the day of your last debate. You’re supposed to have another debate a week from tonight. Just two quick questions. Do you expect that debate to happen? Will you demand that President Trump take a test that day and that it be negative before you debate?
Concerning audience breakdown, Biden faced 11 audience members compared to Trump’s 12. However, Trump fielded 14 questions as one voter (Carl Day) asked three questions whereas Biden’s group only asked their single question.
ABC selected for Biden four Democrats, four Trump 2016 voters, one “disaffected Republican,” one whose voted for both parties, and one voting in a presidential election for the first time.
This was similar to Trump’s audience composition of four Trump 2016 voters, three Hillary voters, one Jill Stein voter, one who’s never voted, one who didn’t support anyone in 2016, one who recently became a citizen, and one who was never identified.
ABC’s rhetorical hand-holding with Biden was sponsored by advertisers such as (but not limited to) Apple/Verizon, Nature’s Bounty, Prudential, T-Mobile. Follow the links to the MRC’s Conservatives Fight Back page.