The dueling town halls between Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden may not have had the face-to-face fireworks of the presidential debate they replaced, but they still provided moments of drama and offered clear insight into the dynamics of the 2020 campaign.
Here are some of the key takeaways from an evening when America had a split-screen experience of the race to the White House.
1) Biden more at ease in a town hall setting, Trump not so much
Whether he was more at ease or felt less restrained, Joe Biden was clearly more comfortable in the town-hall format than a debate setting. He seemed more energetic and his answers were thoughtful, although they became, sometimes, overly wonky. That’s in contrast to Donald Trump, who clearly was frustrated at times during his rival town hall. The president tried to angrily talk over the moderator, Savannah Guthrie, and his frustration with her follow-up questions was visible.
2) Trump still won’t disavow QAnon
In perhaps the most notable moment of the night, Trump again refrained from condemning QAnon, the internet conspiracy theory that a massive cabal of high-profile figures are involved in a satanic pedophilia ring. The movement has no basis in fact.
Trump, as he has done before, denied any knowledge of the ring but quixotically also said he knows its adherents oppose pedophilia.
“I do know they are very much against pedophilia. They fight it very hard. But I know nothing about it,” Trump said.
When pressed, Trump still declined to criticize the conspiracy movement.
3) Biden open to court-packing
Biden didn’t commit to supporting adding seats to the supreme court, but he suggested more openness than he has in the past. When asked about the issue by the moderator George Stephanopoulos, Biden first argued that a new judge should only be appointed after the 3 November election.
But when pressed on whether he would consider adding seats to the high court if Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, was confirmed, Biden said: “I’m open to considering what happens from that point on.” It was the clearest indicator yet that he intends to make his position on the issue clear before Americans go to the polls on election day.
4) Guthrie was on her game and did her homework
NBC host Savannah Guthrie came ready to press Trump. She had follow-up questions. She was ready for Trump’s false statements and incorrect claims.
When asked about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, Trump said his administration would “take care” of it. But then Guthrie pointed out the Trump administration has methodically undercut the program. Trump blamed the coronavirus pandemic and the number of cases in Mexico for the program’s decline.
That was just one of numerous incidents – including Trump’s repeated refusal to be clear on his own coronavirus testing regimen – in which Guthrie grilled the president in ways that he was clearly uncomfortable with.
5) Trump unclear on coronavirus testing
The president during his town hall was once again unclear on the severity or specifics of the coronavirus pandemic. He downplayed its seriousness. He also falsely said a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that “85% of people who wear a mask catch it”.
Guthrie pushed back, noting that was not what the study found.
6) Trump won’t apologize for anything
Trump refused to apologize or admit fault for anything. He refused to admit his administration could have done more to curtail the coronavirus from spreading. He refused to apologize for retweeting a tweet suggesting that the navy Seals involved in the raid that resulted in Osama bin Laden’s death actually killed a Bin Laden double. He also refused to offer specifics on when he first tested positive for Covid-19.