Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden were due to face each other on Thursday night in the second of three traditional presidential debates ahead of the election in November. However, after a disastrous face-off in the first debate, the US president refused to participate in a second debate remotely or virtually from separate locations citing his COVID-19 diagnosis, while saying: "I'm not going to waste my time."
After the debate was cancelled, ABC News invited Joe Biden for a town hall on the same date scheduled for the debate, while Donald Trump got the counter offer from NBC News. The presidential nominees answered the voters at the same time on competing networks, but it went strikingly different for both of them.
At the NBC town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, "Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie posed tough questions in front of Trump, and refused to let him go with evasive answers. Despite being pressed, again and again, the POTUS refused to reveal his last negative coronavirus test, while insisting that he was not positive on the night of the first debate, where his children had refused to wear face masks while watching the discussion. He also insisted that he has "heard different stories" about the effectiveness of masks, even though it has been recommended by his own administration.
Meanwhile, Biden took questions from George Stephanopoulos over at ABC, and offered lengthy policy-driven answers to his questions. While his 90-minutes town hall was already longer than Trump's by half-an-hour, Biden stayed on the seat even after the end to answer individual questions from voters.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer criticised Trump's town hall tweeting "Many people are saying President Trump couldn't handle more than an hour of questions at his town hall," while sports commentator praised Biden's writing: "Biden stayed late after his town hall ended to answer questions from the people who didn't get on TV."
Over at NBC, Trump defended himself when Guthrie questioned him about his refusal to condemn white supremacy at the last debate, as well as when she asked for his comment on the QAnon conspiracy theory. The 74-year-old insisted that he knows nothing about the far-right conspiracy theory which alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against him as he is fighting against it. The president said he only knows that the group is "very strongly against pedophilia" and he agrees with them over this.
"This Trump town hall is a fucking disaster for him. He just refused to denounce QAnon and now he's having a meltdown," "Pod Save America" host Jon Favreau said in a tweet, while in another he praised Biden, saying: "Wow, you really do feel your blood pressure lower when you change over to the Biden town hall."
The president also denied any responsibility for retweeting a completely fact-free conspiracy theory that former US President Barack Obama had Navy SEALS killed, saying: "That was a retweet! People can decide for themselves!" However, Guthrie did not let him go with it and said: "You're the president, you're not someone's crazy uncle."
The president's niece Mary L. Trump who released an explosive memoir about him earlier this year, had an interesting reaction to Guthrie's comment, as she simply tweeted: "Actually."
Meanwhile, Biden got praised for voicing his support to the LGBTQ community, an issue which has been neglected mostly in presidential debates. The 77-year-old also admitted to making a mistake when he was questioned about the Obama administration's tough stance on drug laws.
Several other celebrities took to social media to express their opinion about both townhalls. Actress Debra Messing criticised Trump for refusing to denounce QAnon conspiracy theory, while she wrote about Biden's town hall: "What a RELIEF! A calm, focused, richly informational town hall. Thank you so much @JoeBiden and @GStephanopoulos."
"I know I was supposed to boycott @MSNBC Trump town hall, but I couldn't help myself, and it's awesome. Trump is decomposing in real time, and I'm on my 2nd edible," Chelsea Handler quipped. Songstress Bette Midler also joked: "Donald didn't beatJoe in the ratings tonight, but he definitely beat him in the rantings!"