Joe Biden and President Trump during their respective town hall events tonight. Getty Images
President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden’s dueling town halls on Thursday night offered each of the candidates a chance to showcase their strengths and sway undecided voters.
But despite airing at the same time slot, the competing events weren’t evenly matched.
The Post’s panel of election experts — two for each town hall — generally found that the questions posed to Trump were tougher, with NBC host Savannah Guthrie acting as an adversary and fact-checker to the president.
Biden, meanwhile, was mostly lobbed softballs as ABC host George Stephanopoulos stayed largely hands-off.
“The questions were softball. I think Biden lost votes with his answers on why black voters should vote for him, transgender rights and fracking,” said longtime Staten Island Republican political strategist Leticia Remauro.
In terms of performance, our experts agreed that Trump fared better than he did during his debate with Biden last month.
“Of those who presented as undecided in the audience, it was a strong performance. The president interacted well with questioners and seemed much more contained than in his debate with Biden,” said David Birdsell, dean of Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.
Matt Mackowiak, a longtime Republican strategist, thought that Trump being himself all the way also may have gained him an upper hand.
“Trump gave his standard responses on these subjects. It was interesting to see him post-COVID recovery. I think he may have helped himself marginally tonight,” said Mackowiak, a podcast host and chairman of the local Republican Party in Austin, Texas.
Meanwhile, Biden was calm and collected, which Eric Soufer, who worked on the Democratic presidential campaigns of John Edwards and Barack Obama, argued may be enough to change the minds of some ballot-casters.
“I think Biden’s decency, calm and thoughtfulness — especially when compared on a split screen to Trump — will have a lasting impact on the remaining undecided voters,” said Soufer.
Countered Remauro, “Don’t think that’s enough to get him elected president.”
Here’s how each of the candidates fared on some key questions — and where the moderators ranked, according to our panel:
- Birdsell: On masks, his own experience with COVID-19 and the state of the pandemic nationally, the answers clearly conflict with the reality people see around them. — D
- Mackowiak: Trump detailed what his administration has done and why he is optimistic. He missed an opportunity to show empathy and admit they made some mistakes early on, but they learned from them and are executing a good plan now. — B-
- Remauro: Not his best performance. While he tried to stick to his talking points saying that Trump knew about the virus but didn’t act, it was clear that Biden’s rambling had those who asked the questions — and the viewers — confused. He did get a plug in for wearing a mask though he couldn’t explain how he would do a better job than Trump in getting people to conform. — C
- Soufer: Biden gave a calm, sober explanation of how the crisis started, where Trump failed and why the American people deserved so much better. The contrast between his responses and Trump’s bluster and evasiveness on voters’ number one issue could not have been more stark. — A
- Birdsell: Trump was able to paint a rosy — and often untrue — picture of the economy both under his and his predecessor’s leadership that played well to the live audience. The rating is only high because the moderator didn’t push back on the President’s well-delivered applause lines … allowing the President an unscripted campaign ad. — B
- Mackowiak: Trump made the case for growth and a strong recovery. This contrasted with the Biden plan well. — A-