President Donald Trump ventured from the safe space of Fox News to a considerably more challenging town hall hosted by ABC News in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Tuesday night.
The switch appears to have been ill-advised.
Besides somehow blaming his Democratic rival Joe Biden for not enacting a national mask mandate, Trump spent the town hall claiming that a “herd mentality” would stop COVID-19 (he was presumably referring to the herd immunity method, which health experts have largely rejected as a solution to the pandemic), falsely denying that he wasn’t trying to kill preexisting conditions protections in the Affordable Care Act, and bragging about endorsements from the police when asked about systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
In one particularly eye-popping moment, Trump insisted he “didn’t downplay” the pandemic despite directly admitting to doing exactly that in private conversations with reporter Bob Woodward back in March.
“In many ways I up-played it in terms of action,” Trump told town hall moderator George Stephanopolous on Tuesday.
Throughout it all, both Stephanopoulos and the town hall participants pushed back against Trump’s laundry list of falsehoods, leading to an uncomfortable evening that laid bare the President’s vulnerability in the face of tough questioning-and many viewers could see it.
After the event, CNN reporter Daniel Dale told anchor Don Lemon that he had “hours of fact-checking to do” that night.
“This was just a firehose of lying, again, from the President,” Dale said.
Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker warned that the spectacle ought to be a major red flag for the GOP ahead of Trump’s first debate with Biden.
“To be perfectly frank, that performance tonight by the President at the ABC town hall should send shudders and shockwaves through the Republican Party,” Rucker said during an appearance on MSNBC. “The first debate is 14 days away, two Tuesdays from now, and this is a president who’s clearly not ready for that debate.”
And other observers agreed that the night didn’t go well for Trump:
Would love to know who in the White House thought that Trump doing this town hall was a good idea.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) September 16, 2020
This is the guy desperate to make the election a referendum on mental fitness! https://t.co/GBaD0NqOGW
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) September 16, 2020
My God, he is unfuckinghinged.
Young woman asks Trump why he downplayed the pandemic.
“I didn’t downplay it. I actually in many ways up-played it, in terms of action.”
— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) September 16, 2020
Trump thought he could BS his way through this town hall because he overestimates his intelligence, underestimates Americans and has relied on soft ball media coverage, wealth and privilege to protect him from all his failures all his life. He's crumbling. Didn't take much.
— Wajahat "Wears a Mask Because of a Pandemic" Ali (@WajahatAli) September 16, 2020
Trump’s ABC News town hall: Four Pinocchios, over and over again – The Washington Post https://t.co/aVGK09HpQO
— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) September 16, 2020
“Herd mentality” Can’t make this up… 😵 https://t.co/pacQwm5C3w
— Melanie Thompson (@drmt) September 16, 2020
Joe Biden would like to thank the Trump team for a free 90 minute commercial for him.
— Rob (@angrypooka) September 16, 2020
But hey, there was at least one person who thought it went swimmingly!
Thank you for the great reviews of the @ABC News show last night!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2020