Donald Trump’s ABC New Town Hall Turned Into A Denial Of COVID-19, Race & Rage

Donald Trump’s ABC New Town Hall Turned Into A Denial Of COVID-19, Race & Rage

“Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it,” Donald Trump told an ABC News’ town hall tonight of his response to the deadly coronavirus. “I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action,” the incumbent added, citing his bans on some travel to and from China and Europe this spring. “My action was very strong.”

“Whether you call it ‘talent’ or ‘luck,’ it was very important, so we saved a lot of lives when we did that,” the former Celebrity Apprentice host went on to boast at Tuesday’s socially-distanced event in Philadelphia with George Stephanopoulos – as you can see in the clip below:

In a special @ABC2020, Pres. Trump disputes uncommitted voter who asked why he downplayed a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of color: “I up-played it, in terms of action. My action was very strong.”

Watch tonight at 9|8c on @ABC:

— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020

Answering the question from voter Joni Powell about the ravaging of minority communities by COVID-19, Trump’s version of the health crisis tonight is directly contrary to what he told Rage author Bob Woodward on tape earlier this year of the global pandemic. “I wanted to play to always play it down,” Trump said to the All The President’s Men co-author on March 19, just as America was going into a lockdown that POTUS called unnecessary. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump added in widely reported remarks.

Leading the world with over 6.6 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, America has suffered almost 200,000 deaths from the disease. “I think we did a great job,” Trump said later in the town hall, claiming it could have been much worse if not for his actions.

“It’s going to disappear, George,” an agitated Trump didactically proclaimed of the coronavirus. “We’re going to get back – we’re not going to have studios like this, where you have all of this empty space in between,” Trump said. “I want to see people, and you want to see people. I want to see football games. I’m pushing very hard for Big Ten, I want to see Big Ten open – let the football games – let them play sports. But no, it’s going to disappear, George.”

“It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” Trump said.

Recorded earlier this afternoon in Philadelphia, the primetime, 90-minute broadcast sit-down with Stephanopoulos saw 21 undecided voters posing questions to Trump. Put another way, that’s eight less voters than the highly contested Florida has electoral votes and one more than the battleground Keystone State.

This was the president’s first town hall of the general election campaign, a format that usually means softball questions from the selection of “everyday” Americans. At this event, however, they were given the chance to ask followups, something that occasionally put the president on the spot.

Trump rejected the notion that there is a racial divide in America, even as he and his campaign have waged a campaign centered on the idea that the suburbs are under threat from urban protests and unrest. “Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump replied to voter Pastor Carl Day, who pointed out his Make America Great Again mantra “pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such ‘greatness.” Trump continued: “I can tell you there’s none with me because I have great respect for all races — for everybody. This country is great because of it.”

In a special @ABC2020, an uncommitted voter presses Pres. Trump on how his slogan “Make America Great Again” relates to Black Americans, “because that pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such greatness.”

Watch @ABC News’ town hall tonight at 9|8c.

— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020

As he has often in the past, Trump then veered back to how great the economy was doing before the coronavirus and its economic fallout cast the nation into the worse financial conditions in modern history. Trump also doubled down on his singular focus on law and order, evoking Richard Nixon’s strategy more than a half century ago.

“I can only say this, that the police in this country have done generally a great job,” Trump said in an extended stream of consciousness after being asked about brutality and racism that saw the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by law enforcement and the recent shooting of Jacob Blake.

“There are crimes, there are problems, and there are chokers,” Trump said, while almost as aside admitting that the deaths of Floyd and Taylor were “tragic events.”

“They choke under pressure,” Trump went to justify police violence “I mean, they have one quarter of a second to make a decision, and sometimes they make a wrong decision, and that’s a terrible thing,” he continued of so-called “bad apples” on police forces.

“But you have 99 percent great people. I know the police forces very well. I think almost every one of them, if you look, I’ve been endorsed by so many of them. And these are great people.”

The display made it obvious on Tuesday that Trump had no intention of veering from his strategy of blaming others. At one point, as he faulted “Democrat states” for mounting crises, Stephanopulos had to remind him that they are “American states.” At another instance, Trump criticized Joe Biden for not implementing a national mask mandate even though he said he would. “To be clear: I am not currently president,” Biden tweeted later in the evening.

When asked about well sourced reporting of derogatory remarks he supposedly made about U.S. military personnel and veterans, a visibly agitated Trump again denied it and called The Atlantic article and others “fake news” with “made up quotes.” Heavily criticized as unfit for office by his ex-Defense Secretary, his ex-Chief of Staff and his ex-National Security Advisor, among others, Trump, as he has before, called the men he once highly praised as “disgruntled ex-employees.”

Pres. Trump in a special @abc2020 event: “I never made those statements. They were never made by me. They said I stood over the grave of soldiers killed many years ago and I said they were suckers. I never made that.”

— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020

When asked by another voter of color about attacks on health care access and Obamacare’s pre-existing condition clauses, Trump turned the topic on to a false assertion that the Democrats have “socialized medicine,” which drew on-air fact checking from Stephanopoulos. Noting how the Trump administration is trying to “strike down the whole law” of Obamacare at the Supreme Court with no significant replacement legislation or plan despite repeated promises, Stephanopoulos’ facts were met with Trump meekly contending that he “has it all ready.” – as you can see in the clip below.

In a special @abc2020, @GStephanopoulos presses Pres. Trump on claim he is preserving pre-existing conditions, even as his administration argues in court against Obamacare, which protects them: “You’ve been trying to strike down pre-existing conditions.”

— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020

The location of tonight’s town hall at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center was no mere backdrop. Trump’s win in Pennsylvania in 2016 was a shock to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and most Democrats. Both Trump and Biden were in the state last week to visit the Shanksville Memorial for the 19th anniversary of 9/11. With over 35 years under his belt as a Senator from neighboring Delaware, Biden currently holds a nearly 10-point lead over Trump in Pennsylvania, though that is expected to tighten in coming weeks as the duo meet for a trio of live debates.

Stephanopoulos did try to interject at moments, but often Trump very quickly rattled off misleading claims and false statements that made real-time fact checking next to impossible. That will be a challenge come September 29, the first debate, when Fox News’ Chris Wallace will moderate.

ABC News said that it did offer Biden a town hall as well, but said that they “were not able to find a mutually agreeable date” with the Biden campaign. On the other hand, Biden will be appearing on CNN on Thursday for a town hall of his own with anchor Anderson Cooper.

On his show on Tuesday, Cooper’s guest was Woodward, who responded to Trump’s claim that he “Up-played” the virus.

“We are living in an Orwellian world,” Woodward said. “This is not just about some political problem, or some geopolitical problem. It’s about the lives of people in this country.”

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