The second presidential debate, which was canceled after Trump refused to attend a virtual event after contracting the coronavirus, has been replaced by individual debates with voters. done at the same time and broadcast on competing TV channels.
And each of the debates could not be more different: if one was marked by parsimony and moderate discussion, the other was stormy, full of interruptions and high tones.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden answer questions from voters on different programs
In Miami, President Donald Trump lived a tense night when he was pressured by voters and moderator Savannah Guthrie about his response to coronavirus, white supremacists, his taxes, the QAnon conspiracy theory or his plans for an alternative to the health insurance program. Obamacare.
In Philadelphia, Democrat Joe Biden calmly regretted having participated decades ago in a crime bill for which he was severely criticized and promised that, even before the election, he would detail his plan on the possibility of expanding the Supreme Court. . From United States.
The top two candidates in the Nov. 3 elections participated only in a face-to-face debate – Photo: Reuters / BBC
The parallel debates generated confrontations and doubts before they even happened, since NBC, the broadcaster where Trump did his, decided to schedule it at the same time and date that Biden had announced it on competitor ABC.
Many local media questioned that the decision would affect the American public and hinder its broadcast in a timely manner, but it was also seen as a “war of audiences” not only between rival television stations, but also between supporters of both candidates.
Take a look at some highlights of this special night:
According to Qanon’s conspiracy theory, Trump is fighting a clandestine “deep state” network of political, business, media and entertainment elites, often involving satanic plots and child trafficking.
When moderator Guthrie asked Trump on Thursday night if he would reject the group, the president replied that he knew “nothing about QAnon”. The moderator then said that she had just told him about the group.
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in an interview with NBC in Miami on Thursday (15) – Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters
“You told me, but what you said to me doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a fact. I hate to say that, ”replied Trump. “I know that they are against pedophilia, that they fight a lot,” replied the President of the United States, after saying that he did not know them.
So, as he has done on other occasions when asked about groups that believe and promote white supremacy, he tried to change the subject towards his condemnation of Antifa, the movement of mostly left-wing activists who fight against racial discrimination, sometimes with violence. .
The ship continued as the hostess challenged Trump: “You know (about Qanon).” “I don’t know,” replied the president.
2. Biden and the Supreme Court
At the Biden Citizen Forum, the Democratic candidate was asked whether he supported an increase in the number of members of the Supreme Court.
The issue has been in the spotlight for the past few weeks, after the Republican Party decided to continue the process to confirm Amy Coney Barret as Supreme Court judge after the death of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18. .
The appointment of conservative Barrett caused division when it took place weeks before the election, especially since, in 2016, Republicans refused to consider President Obama’s then-candidate when a seat in the court became vacant.
Interview with Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for president of the United States, in Philadelphia this Thursday (15) – Photo: Tom Brenner / Reuters
Republicans argue that if Barrett’s nomination is confirmed, the Democratic candidate plans to expand the number of judges at the Court to nine today to fight the conservative majority. With that, they say, Biden would manipulate the third arm of the United States government, the Judiciary.
Moderator George Stephanopoulos pressured Biden to say if that was his plan. “I am open to considering what will happen from there,” replied Biden, indicating that his decision will depend on the Senate vote.
Stephanopoulos lobbied the former vice president, saying voters have a right to know their position on this fundamental issue.
“They have a right to know what my position is and they have a right to know before they vote,” he said. “Depending on how it unfolds,” he added, apparently referring to Judge Barrett’s Republican confirmation.
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus dominated most debates for both candidates. In fact, the two debates started with questions about the strategy to fight the coronavirus, but in each case the tone was quite different.
In Trump’s, it was clear from the beginning that the presenter would not let the president escape or dodge uncomfortable questions. So Guthrie insisted on knowing when Trump would be last tested negative before his positive diagnosis of covid-19.
The NBC host wanted to know if the president had been put to the test before his debate with Biden on September 29, but Trump was unable to provide a clear answer.
People line up for the Covid-19 test in Atlanta, Georgia (USA) on July 11 – Photo: Elijah Nouvelage / Getty Images / AFP
For his part, Biden took the first minutes of his debate to criticize the management of his rival’s government and to develop his ideas on how best to face the pandemic.
In that sense, he said that if there is a vaccine before December, he will take it if science guarantees it is safe and that, as president, he will make it mandatory.
“If scientists say the vaccine is ready and has been tested, it has gone through all three phases, yes, I would take it and encourage people to do it,” he said.
4. The different tones of questions and answers
The Biden debate at times seemed like an autobiography and political theory class: the presenter was sometimes incisive, as in the absence of a clear position on the potential increase of ministers in the STF, but, throughout the debate, the tone was quite restrained.
Voters pressured the candidate on other sensitive issues, such as fracking (hydraulic fracturing, a method that allows the extraction of liquid and gaseous fuels from the underground) or support for transsexuals, but the candidate always responded in a moderate tone, with anecdotes and without explosions.
Trump and Biden compete for audience with simultaneous television events
In Miami, however, the night was different.
Guthrie not only asked embarrassing questions that sometimes made Trump lose his composure, but he also confronted him when he presented distorted data and repeated the questions when he avoided them.
For example, when Trump claimed that a study says that 85% of people who wear a coronavirus mask are infected, Guthrie noted that he was aware of the study and that it was not exactly what the research was about.
At another point, when Trump defended his administration’s response to the coronavirus by citing a prediction that at least 2 million people could die from COVID-19, Guthrie added that that number estimated the number of people who would die if they did not drink. no action.
U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican candidate for re-election during an interview in Miami on Thursday (15) – Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters
But perhaps the most viral moment of the night was when the moderator referred to a retweet that the president recently made with a false theory, saying that Osama bin Laden would be alive and that former President Barack Obama and his deputy, Joe Biden, would have organized, in association with Iran, the assassination of the leader of al-Qaeda and reportedly ordered the death of members of an elite group of the US Navy to cover up the whole case.
“It was just a retweet,” replied the president. “People can decide for themselves.”
It was then that Guthrie reminded him of his position and the influence his tweets have on millions of people.
“You are the president. You are not the crazy uncle of someone who can retweet anything, ”he said.
5. Biden’s acknowledgment of a political error
One of the elements that weighed on Biden during his campaign is the anti-crime bill he defended in 1994 and which raised difficult questions years later.
When asked by Stephanopoulos whether it was a mistake to support the project, Biden said yes. According to him, the error was in the way the project had been implemented in the United States.
Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for president of the United States, wears a mask before the beginning of an interview with ABC on Thursday (15) – Photo: Tom Brenner / Reuters
The Democratic candidate considered that the legislation was “indicative of his time”, but that the problems of racial justice in the United States are different now.
“Things have changed dramatically,” he said.
BBC’s Anthony Zurcher analysis in Washington
There would be a presidential debate on Thursday night. Instead, the nation was offered what was announced as two debates with voters.
But, although the events, which were broadcast on different networks, had the same format, they were very different from each other.
President Trump’s night was controversial. From the start, he was pressured about how he dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, his position on wearing masks and his views on white supremacists and QAnon conspiracy theorists.
Host Savannah Guthrie bombarded him with questions aloud when he looked evasive. The president was faster and more pleasant than in the first debate, but there is no doubt that he returned to the defense.
When changing channels for the debate with Biden, the fervor faded. Moderator George Stephanopoulos allowed the former vice president to give long, sometimes tortuous responses. It looked like a public interest talk show, with solemn readings of the United States Constitution before business breaks.
The debate with Trump was much more fun and will almost certainly have attracted more viewers.
VIDEOS: US elections in 2020