The appearances of candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden at civic forums bring little that is new. Differences, however, stand out all the more clearly.
Joe Biden on his way to the citizens’ question time on Thursday evening Photo: dpa
U.S. President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden faced questions from voters* in two parallel televised citizens’ forums on Thursday evening. Politically, the long-distance duel had little new to offer, but the demeanor and behavior of the two opponents could hardly have been more different.
Trump was aggressive and venomous, especially at the beginning of the broadcast. He disparagingly referred to NBC host Savannah Guthrie’s question regarding the conspiracy theories of QAnon supporters as "very cute." He did not give his constituents a clear answer as to where he stood on the absurd theories.
Biden, on the other hand, tried to offer sympathy, understanding and concrete political plans. His long-winded answers, in which the former U.S. vice president often talked himself out of his skin, nevertheless did not exude the confidence that many voters would like to see from him.
Trump and Biden were supposed to face each other in the second televised debate on Thursday. However, the president’s positive coronavirus test result almost two weeks ago and his refusal to take part in a virtual debate prevented the two top US candidates from meeting again.
Trump’s aggressive behavior toward Guthrie was by far the most memorable moment of the Miami civic forum. "Here we go again," said a visibly unnerved president when asked about his attitude toward far-right groups. "You always do this. […] Are you listening? I condemn White Supremacy. What’s the next question?"
In the first debate, Trump had made headlines when he refused to unequivocally denounce far-right groups. At the time, he did state that the "Proud Boys" should back off. In the same breath, however, he said they should stand by. "Stand back and stand by," was Trump’s choice of words at the time.
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As could be read in many far-right chat rooms and on various social networks afterwards, members and supporters of various groups celebrated the president’s statement as a kind of confirmation.
Voters’ questions in both civic forums focused primarily on the ongoing Corona crisis. Also mentioned were the state of the economy, the future of health insurance, and the current process for appointing a new chief justice to the Supreme Court.
Trump, despite his recent personal experience with the virus, remains convinced that he and his administration have done a "fantastic job" in fighting the pandemic. He also stated that the worst was already behind the United States. This is despite the fact that the number of infections in many U.S. states is currently on the rise again and more than 210,000 people in the United States have died from the virus so far.
Biden again criticized the president for knowing about the deadly dangers of the virus as early as this spring and yet doing nothing to prevent a widespread outbreak. "Americans don’t panic, but Trump panicked," the Democratic front-runner said, alluding to Trump’s statement that he had not wanted to panic the U.S. population unnecessarily.
The 77-year-old Biden, who took questions from voters* in Philadelphia, tried to clearly distinguish himself from Trump. To do so, he also used a quote from his father: "Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity." He explained that equality is one of the central themes of his political life.
"If I win the election for president, you won’t hear from me racist rants and you won’t hear anything that further divides us. You will hear from me that which brings us together," Biden said at the civic forum hosted by ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos.
Fracking and Green New Deal
As he did in the first disastrous debate between the two candidates on Sept. 29, Biden reiterated his controversial positions on fracking and on the Green New Deal – a large-scale legislative package to move away from fossil fuels. He went on record saying he would not ban the controversial fracking method of oil and gas extraction and that the Green New Deal went too far for him.
The ex-vice president also failed to give a clear answer to the question of whether he would increase the number of Supreme Court justices if Amy Coney Barrett were confirmed by the Senate to succeed the recently deceased Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
With the voters* Trump dealt less aggressively, but he owed them a real answer on many questions. After a long period of hesitation, however, the 74-year-old declared that he would accept defeat in the election. At the same time, he repeated his criticism of the absentee ballot system, which he said could lead to vote rigging.
Asked why voters who still had not decided on a candidate should vote for him, Trump said confidently: "Because I did a great job."
Next week, the two U.S. presidential candidates face off in their final TV duel before the election. The venue is Nashville in the U.S. state of Tennessee.