All Joe Biden had to do to claim ground against Donald Trump in tonight’s CNN town hall was show up and show he cared. And that’s exactly what the former Vice-President did from the very start of the unique drive-in event near his hometown of Scranton, PA with Anderson Cooper.
“My heart goes out to you,” the current Democratic POTUS candidate responded to local voter Shani Adams, who revealed that she had lost her sister to the coronavirus. That was very different from Trump’s appearance on ABC’s town hall on September 15, where the president, in response to the personal stories of some of the questioners, often resorted to talking points he’s repeated in press conferences, rallies and tweets.
Still, Trump’s town hall was great TV because it was the president outside his element — what his detractors called a train wreck and what one of his boosters, Laura Ingraham on Fox News, groused was an “ambush.”
Much more measured at his town hall, Biden seemed to try to make a point of having a command of facts and policy points, while trying to relate to the questioners’ stories of hardship. It was a tale of two very different approaches to campaigning and governance.
As if to counter the Trump campaign’s caricature of him as old and doddering, at one point Biden identified the different biological makeup of two different COVID-19 vaccines, and later in an answering a question on overregulation of farmers.
He was at his strongest, though, in taking on Trump, and with a front-loaded series of questions tied to COVID-19 (and with generally friendlier questions overall), he had a number of opportunities to do so. (Biden’s first significant face-to-face with voters since winning the Democratic nomination also seemed to have a disproportionate number of guys named Joe in the audience.)
“There’s never been a time when Americans have not been able to step up,” Biden said at one point, referring to the resilience of the public in the face of a crisis. Then he added, “The president should step down.”
Biden’s stint in front of approximately 100 attendees at PNC Field will be followed later on Thursday night by an outdoor Trump rally in hotly contested Wisconsin. Then, on Sept. 29, they will go head-to-head in the first of three debates.
In fact, as an amped up and mainly jovial Biden took questions at the cable newser’s town hall on the coronavirus pandemic, the hobbled economy, his debate prep, China, white privilege, racial injustice and police brutality, Trump was throwing inaccurate shade not just on his rival but his own FBI Director:
Waving his working-class roots and lack of an Ivy League degree, Biden made it personal against Trump in his own way too on Thursday. “I never ever ever thought I would see such a thoroughly totally irresponsible administration,” Biden said.
Queried by Cooper on Director Wray’s comments and how he would handle Vladimir Putin and Russian election interference, Biden remarked: “It wouldn’t be prudent for me to be more specific, but I assure you they will pay a price.”
Before the town hall had even ended, the Trump campaign was hammering Biden on his answer on China, calling the country a competitor versus an enemy. But there’s some question as to whether such a line of attack — that he is soft on China — won’t be all that relevant to voters in swing states. Rather often, no matter the question, Biden tried to turn the answer back to Trump, especially when it came to their own roots.
“Guys like Trump who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people I’ve always had a problem with,” he said. “Not the people who are busting their neck.”
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