President Donald Trump will participate in a virtual town hall question-and-answer forum hosted by NBC News on Thursday evening, an event that will air at the exact same time as another town hall on ABC featuring Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The dual town hall events are happening in response to the Trump campaign’s refusal last week to take part in a virtual town hall debate between the two candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) had announced that the second debate, which was set to happen on Thursday, would become a virtual event, in light of the president’s coronavirus infection and in order to keep both candidates and town hall participants safe.
Trump rejected that call from the CPD outright, saying on Fox Business last week that the move was “not acceptable to” him and his campaign.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate, that’s not what debating is all about,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate. It’s ridiculous.”
Immediately after Trump made those comments last Thursday, Biden scheduled a solo town hall with ABC to take place at 8 pm Eastern Time tomorrow, hosted by George Stephanopoulos. The following day, the CPD officially canceled the second debate.
Trump’s town hall, which will air at the exact same time as Biden’s — at 8 pm Eastern Time — is set to take place outdoors, and will be “in accordance with the guidelines set forth by health officials, also consistent with all government regulations,” host Hoda Kotb said on NBC’s “Today” show on Wednesday morning.
Savannah Guthrie will moderate the event, sitting 12 feet away from the president at all times. Other attendees will be required to wear masks.
Although some may have their doubts about his health, it’s highly likely that Trump has demonstrated to NBC News that he is now recovered from his coronavirus infection, as the network reportedly sought independent proof that he was virus-free before agreeing to host the town hall.
Still, there’s a strong likelihood that Trump will disseminate opinions about the pandemic during his town hall meeting that will be highly misleading or flat-out wrong. The president has been suggesting at recent campaign rallies, for example, where social distancing and mask standards have been ignored, that he is now immune from the virus — a statement that runs counter to many health experts’ thinking on COVID-19.
The twin town halls may set up a contentious battle between the two candidates on another front, one that may be closer to Trump’s heart than the current pandemic: television ratings. The president is famously obsessed with touting his own television audience numbers, and will likely claim after Thursday that a higher viewership is proof he’s in a better position than Biden in the run-up to Election Day.
Current polling data shows otherwise. According to aggregate data from FiveThirtyEight.com, as of Wednesday morning Biden is more than 10 points ahead of Trump, with the site further suggesting that the former vice president has an 87 percent chance of winning the race.
While the second debate has been canceled, the third debate is still set to occur on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.