Last night, ABC News held a town hall with President Trump in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The host was ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos. It was billed as a 20/20 event and titled “The President and the People”.
I confess, I watched. Going into it, my expectations were low. I was not disappointed. The event was even worse than I thought it would be. The participants were allegedly uncommitted voters though, after listening to their questions, that description is impossible to believe. It was easy to assume that all but possibly two of the very small audience are Biden voters. The voters were identified by name and for whom they voted in 2016 if they voted at all.
The question that kept popping up for me was whether or not the people had been coached by ABC staffers before the town hall began. I say that because the overt hostility and aggressive line of questioning were unusual, even for Trump opponents. This is 2020, though, and clearly any form of civil behavior is to be set aside if political points can be made, especially against the president. For example, I have never seen a person stand up and ask a question of any president at a town hall and while doing so, rudely not allow him to respond until she permitted it. Ellesia Blaque, an assistant professor from Philadelphia with preexisting conditions, asked a question about Obamacare. As she did so, Trump began to respond but she shut him down. “Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” she said. She voted for Hillary in 2016.
At the town hall, Blaque said she was born with a disease called sarcoidosis and started asking whether Trump would make sure she would remain covered by health insurance as she has been under the Affordable Care Act, the law also known as Obamacare.
She said: “Should preexisting conditions, which Obamacare brought to fruition, be removed without–”
“No,” Trump said.
“Please stop and let me finish my question, sir,” Blaque replied.
Blaque continued: “Should that be removed, within a 36- to 72-hour period without my medication I would be dead. And I want to know what it is that you’re going to do to assure that people like me that work hard, we do everything were supposed to do, can stay insured.
“It’s not my fault that I was born with this disease. It’s not my fault that I’m a Black woman and in the medical community I’m minimized and not taken seriously. I want to know what you are going to do about that.”
So, he did. She finished what she had to say and Trump responded that her premise was incorrect. He reassured her that she is taken seriously and that he wasn’t denying pre-existing conditions in his health care plan. This was quickly fact-checked by Stephanopoulos, though.
"You've been trying to strike down pre-existing conditions."
In a @ABC2020 town hall, @GStephanopoulos presses Pres. Trump on claim he's preserving pre-existing conditions—as his administration argues in court against Obamacare, which protects them. Watch the full exchange. pic.twitter.com/GuOyqUKhen
— ABC News (@ABC) September 16, 2020
That is something Stephanopoulos did throughout the town hall – he interrupted Trump consistently and corrected what he considered misstatements from the president. He was fact-checking in real-time. When have you ever seen a network host do that to Joe Biden? Oh, wait. Biden doesn’t sit for random questions from audiences and the press doesn’t ask anything of him, either.
Trump said he is ready to release his health care plan but he’s been saying that for several months. If he does have something ready to present to voters, now is the time to do it.
I have never seen the kind of rudeness from questioners as I saw during this town hall. Not to be Pollyanna-ish but there used to be a level of decorum shown for the president, or at least for the office, and Trump derangement has tossed all of that aside. Look for it to get worse as the polls tighten and Election Day grows closer.
A pastor, a Jill Stein voter in 2016, rose and told Trump that his MAGA slogan is offensive to black people and asked when America was great for black people. He sounded as though he was channeling his inner Rev. Wright. Trump answered as best as he could and spoke of his economic successes in office that makes life better for minorities. Stephanopoulos chimed in about the wealth gap.
“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,'” he asked. “You’ve said everything else about choking and everything else, but you have yet to address and acknowledge that there has been a race problem in America.”
“I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump replied. “I can tell you there’s none with me because I have great respect for all races — for everybody. This country is great because of it.”
The president then turned to what he called “the best unemployment numbers they’ve ever had in the Black community, by far,” prior to the economic fallout from the pandemic.
“And that was solving a lot of problems, and you know what else was — it was bringing people together,” Trump said.
Stephanopoulos noted there is still a wealth gap between Blacks and whites in the U.S., one that existed long before the pandemic, to which Trump said, “I mean, there was a gap, but we were doing a good job. It was getting better.”
One man said he voted from Trump in 2016 but now likely will not because of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He is concerned about the lack of social distancing and the use of face masks he sees from the president.
Paul Tubiana — who identifies as conservative and pro-life, says he is diabetic and voted for Trump in 2016 — and did not mince words invoking his own struggle.
“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 said. “Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?”
As I said, only a couple of people seemed potential Trump voters. Stephanopolous showed his usual left-leaning slant. He is, in my opinion, a perfect example of why political operatives should not be hired by television networks to play journalists on television.
Don’t hold your breath for a similar event with Joe Biden. His campaign conveniently says they cannot find time in his schedule for such a town hall.