It was more about the failed gotchas from host George Stephanopoulos and the handpicked “regular” Americans asking predictably hostile questions than the answers given at the ABC News Town Hall with President Trump on Sept. 15.
From the Coronavirus crisis to claims of “systemic racism” in American policing and society to alleged military dissatisfaction, Trump fielded unsurprising queries in line with progressive framing of the president and emerged unscathed. And that was about the only result worth noting from the nationally televised broadcast. Nothing bold was on display from either side as a partisan big-box media outlet took its expected swings without drawing blood and Trump ably defended himself without delivering any devastating counterpunches of his own.
Shrill Yet Easy to Navigate
An unfriendly media represented here in the form of ex-Bill Clinton adviser Stephanopoulos sees the Coronavirus as an issue that can be used to hurt Trump while the president appears to believe the controversy over policing in America is a winner for him. Two of the more prominent failed gotchas for the evening were on these particular subjects.
Paul Tubiana, identified as a 2016 Trump voter, started things off by asserting that the president put his life in danger by not fully embracing the unprecedented social curbs being imposed on the American people in the name of fighting the virus. Tubiana is diabetic.
“I’ve had to dodge people who don’t care about social distancing and wearing face masks. I thought you were doing a good job with a pandemic response, until about May 1, then you took your foot off the gas pedal,” Tubiana proclaimed. “Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?”
The question highlights a bizarre tactic frequently employed by Democrats and their media allies despite its proven poor track record since Trump appeared on the national political scene in 2015. Highly emotional claims of personal victimization on issues that affect 330 million Americans are not persuasive no matter how earnest they may sound. The question did nothing to put Trump on an uncomfortable footing. All he had to do was resort to familiar talking points on how his administration has dealt with the virus.
ABC nevertheless persisted in pushing the argument that face masks are an undisputed crucial tool in fighting the virus, even though tens of millions of Americans do not accept the “settled science” of progressive minds on the controversy.
Julie Bart asked Trump why he didn’t wear a mask in public more often given how essential they are to combating the virus. Well, gee, that’s two different folks, America. It must be a consensus. “There [are], by the way, a lot of people who don’t want to wear masks,” Trump replied, not saying anything that everybody already doesn’t know. “There are a lot of people that think the masks are not good.” Nothing was resolved, no new terrain was explored, and the whole discussion seemed pointless as a result.
Failed gotcha Number Two came over the dreaded “R” word and, again, both question and response were pat and predictable. Black pastor Carl Day of Philadelphia challenged Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan by echoing the sentiments of 1619 Project progressivism. “Because you say again, we need to see when was that ‘great?’ Because that pushes us back to a time in which we cannot identify with such ‘greatness,'” the pastor asked.
This isn’t a Democratic primary town hall, ABC. We’re in general election mode now. Telling Trump that America was never great will not hurt his standing with the vast majority of undecided voters. Nor is it going to cause him to say something he shouldn’t. The president was able to easily transition to talk about improving black unemployment numbers under his administration before the Coronavirus fallout struck the U.S. economy and the conversation again became routine.
Police Trump Card
Trump appeared most robust on the subject of police reform, and it was here where Stephanopoulos had to tread softly. As Black Lives Matter protests continue to degenerate into rioting and senseless violence, public support for the movement is flagging. The horrific Sept. 12 ambush of two Los Angeles police officers has further bolstered Trump’s longstanding pro-law and order campaign theme.
“How about that horrible crime that took place two days ago, where this terrible human being walks up to a police car with two people sitting in the car, and he starts shooting bullets right through the glass, right in their face?” Trump firmly stated. “And just has destroyed, I mean, I hear they’re going to make it but they’re going to have a hard time ever being the same.”
“But that’s a lack of respect,” he continued. “When somebody can do that, that’s a lack of respect. There’s no retribution in the field. There’s no retribution.”
Stephanopoulos attempted to turn to statistics that he said proved “systemic” police racism but Trump had a ready response.
“So I just saw a poll where African Americans in this country, black communities, are 81 percent in favor of having more police,” the president said. “They want more police, they want protection. They suffer more than anybody else by bad police protection – all minorities, whether it’s Hispanic or black or Asian. They suffer more than anybody else, George.”
It was not a fruitful topic for ABC’s gotcha game and the more Stephanopoulos pursued it, the stronger Trump came off.
The most canned question of the night, one every viewer had to know was coming, concerned the anonymously sourced and highly dubious article in the leftist magazine The Atlantic that “reported” that Trump had called America’s war dead “suckers” for giving their lives for their country. Alexandra Stamen of Pittsburgh did the asking. As usual, the question was highly emotional but not difficult for Trump to rebuff.
“I never made those statements,” he replied. “They were never made by me.”
“Do you know we had 26 people as of today come out to say it never happened, and many people were there,” he added, secure in his response.
When Stephanopoulos stated that “General [and former Trump administration Defense Secretary James] Mattis said you’re a divider; you’re not trying to unite the country,” it set up the president to fire back at his prominent critics. “General [and former White House Chief of Staff] John F. Kelly said he agreed with that,” Stephanopoulos continued. “John Bolton, who was your national security adviser, said you are a danger to the country.”
“These are people that I let go,” Trump said. “These are disgruntled former employees, to put it in a nice way – a term people would understand … Mattis was fired, as you know, by President Obama and I fired him also. OK? … If you look at John Bolton, John Bolton – all he wanted to do was blow people up. He wanted to go to war with everybody …”
And so it went. Would-be traps dished out in emotive voices were revealed to have hollow cores. There was no serious challenge for Trump to overcome in the soggy affair and so it can’t be said that he put on a bravura performance. He did display stamina and an ability to handle an array of topics, two tasks he accuses his Democratic opponent Joe Biden of being unable to perform. In that regard, it was a successful night. But for many Americans tuning in, it must have felt like watching a rerun of a formulaic program that has been aired many times before.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.