President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s competing town halls Thursday evening left many media pundits split.
“Well that happened,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said. “That was a strange replacement for what was otherwise supposed to be the second presidential debate of this general election season.”
Both candidates participated in televised town halls (Trump on NBC and Biden on ABC) after the Commission on Presidential Debates cancelled the second of three presidential debates, a town-hall format featuring questions from voters originally scheduled for Thursday in Miami.
Celebrities and television personalities were forced to jump between channels to hear from the candidates. As CNN’s Van Jones put it, “You kind of break your wrist going back and forth between these (town halls) trying to watch them at the same time.”
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He was not alone. Katie Couric announced on Twitter that she was “channel surfing.” But she said her “blood pressure is now down significantly” while tuning in to one candidate in particular.
“@JoeBiden is coming across as sincere and humble,” she added, while voicing frustration at Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the conspiracy group, QAnon.
NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie hosted Trump’s town hall, which proved to be contentious from the start as moderator and candidate sparred over questions on COVID-19 and white supremacy. Some said that Trump actually was in a debate.
“(Trump) pretty much debated Savannah Guthrie,” Fox News host Sean Hannity said.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani called Guthrie “hostile, argumentative, and contradictory.”
Bill O’Reilly tweeted, “This NBC thing with Mr. Trump is a complete setup. Ms. Guthrie is hostile. Meanwhile, it’s a smooch fest between Stephanopolus and Biden on ABC.”
Megyn Kelly – who served as a moderator for the Republican presidential debate Aug. 6, 2015 – agreed that the NBC event was catered to Democrats.
“So far, this is not a town hall for voters, it is designed to appease the angry NBC employees/Dems who are (expletive) off Trump’s on NBC at all,” Kelly tweeted, before lambasting Guthrie’s question selection and interruptions.
Others praised Guthrie for pressing Trump for answers while fact-checking him.
Although Amy Schumer “did not want to give @nbc ratings tonight,” the comedian applauded Guthrie’s “kick (expletive)” moderation.
“I love @savannahguthrie and believe in her,” Schumer wrote on Instagram. “She did such a great job and I appreciate it. She took him to task. And her questions were honest and authentic, even though his answers were not.”
“Good for #SavannahGuthrie for holding his bone spurs to the fire,” tweeted Bette Midler, an outspoken Trump critic.
Washington Post writer Aaron Blake tweeted: “Savannah Guthrie is putting on a masterclass. Having fact checks ready. Not letting lengthy filibusters. Sharp questions, cutting in regularly to set the record straight and keep things focused.”
Washington Post’s Washington Bureau Chief Philip Rucker said Guthrie had “sharp, tough questioning,” adding she was “smartly following up to pin Trump down when he responds with vague or rambling answers.”
Variety’s Brian Steinberg described Guthrie’s town hall as “what may be the performance of a career.”
“NBC’s Savannah Guthrie kept a tight rein on the proceedings of a controversial town-hall event with President Donald Trump that has put NBC in the cross-hairs of critics,” Steinberg continued, adding earlier in the night that she “isn’t letting POTUS wander very much, keeping him on a pretty tight leash in terms of his responses.”
Guthrie also drew praise from her colleagues at NBC.
“Kudos to @SavannahGuthrie and the entire @NBCNews team that produced tonight’s #trumptownhall in #miami Well done,” Al Roker tweeted, while Hoda Kotb added: “.@SavannahGuthrie proud to be your partner. Get some rest.. see you in the morning.”
CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip called out a passive-aggressive comment during an exchange between Trump and Guthrie: “I think the suburban women will love Trump telling Savannah Guthrie sarcastically that she is ‘so cute.’ “
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Let’s not forget about Biden’s town hall, moderated by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center.
Kelly applauded the former vice president’s demeanor. “Biden sounds good/coherent on ABC right now – talking about the country’s future/unity – has the ‘aw shucks’ attitude he sometimes shows. It’s definitely easier when the moderator lets you speak,” she tweeted.
The Biden-Stephanopoulos back-and-forth was calm in comparison to their counterparts. The ABC host, however, caught some flak for allegedly taking it easy on Biden.
Giuliani said “Stephanopoulis let Biden speak endlessly and never interrupted him,” In another tweet, he added: “I thought George Stephanopoulis had grown from a partisan Democrat to being a journalist.”
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