It was an unusual night in U.S. politics.
The second presidential debate, which was canceled after Trump refused to participate virtually after contracting coronavirus, became two forums with voters Celebrated at the same time and broadcast on rival TV channels.
And each of the programs could not be more different: calm in the face of storm, parsimony in the face of momentum, moderate discussion in the face of interruptions and high tones.
On the one hand, the president Donald Trump, in Miami, lived a hot night in which he was pressured by voters and moderator Savannah Guthrie about his response to coronavirus, white supremacism, his taxes, the QAnon conspiracy theory, or his plans for an alternative to the Obamacare health insurance program.
Democrat Joe Biden, from Philadelphia, in a calm and peaceful tone, showed his regret for having participated decades ago in an anti-crime bill for which he has been harshly criticized and promised that before the election he will make clear his plan about the possibility of expanding the U.S. Supreme Court.
Parallel forums generated clashes and questions even before its realization given that NBC, the network where Trump held its forum, decided to schedule it at the same time and date Biden had announced his on rival ABC.
Many local media outlets questioned that the decision would affect the American public and make it difficult for it to be informed in a timely manner, but also was seen as a «audience war. not only between rival TVs, but also among the followers of both candidates.
Here are some of the highlights of the exceptional night.
1. Trump and QAnon
QAnon’s conspiracy theory holds that Trump is fighting a clandestine «deep state» network made up of political, business, media and entertainment elites, which often involve satanic plots and child trafficking.
When Guthrie asked Trump Thursday night if he would reject the group, the representative replied that he knew «nothing about QAnon.»
The moderator said she had just told her about the group.
«You told me, but what you told me doesn’t necessarily make it a fact. I hate to say that,» Trump replied.
«I know you’re against pedophilia, you fight it very hard,» she replied after saying she didn’t know them.
Then, as he has done on other occasions when asked about supremacism, he tried to change the subject towards his condemnation of Antifa, a mainly far-left activist movement that combats racial discrimination, sometimes violently.
The coming and going continued when the presenter challenged Trump: «You then know [sobre QAnon]«.
«I don’t know, » replied the representative.
2. Biden and the Supreme Court
At biden’s citizen forum, the Democratic candidate was asked if he supported an increase in the number of members of the Supreme Court.
The issue has been in the air for the past few weeks, after the Republican Party decided to move forward with the process to confirm Amy Coney Barret as a magistrate of Supreme Court after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg on 18 September.
Conservative Barrett’s nomination has caused division for a few weeks after the election, especially after Republicans refused in 2016 to consider then-President Obama’s nominee when a position in court became vacant.
Republicans argue that, if Barrett’s nomination is confirmed, the Democratic nominee plans expand the number of Court judges, which is currently nine, to counter the conservative majority. With this, they say, Biden would manipulate the third branch of the U.S. government, the judiciary.
Moderator George Stephanopoulos pressured Biden to say if he’s considering doing something like that.
«I’m open to considering what happens thereafter,» Biden replied, referencing that his decision would depend on the vote in the Senate.
Stephanopoulos asked the former vice president if voters have a right to know what their position is on the key issue.
«They have a right to know whatI is my position and you will have the right to know before you vote»Said.
«Depending on how you handle this,» she added, apparently referring to Judge Barrett’s republican confirmation.
3. The coronavirus
As it could not be otherwise, the coronavirus also starred in much of the two citizen debates.
In fact, both forums started with questions about the strategy to combat coronavirus, but in each case the tone was very different.
In Trump’s meeting, it became clear from the outset that the presenter was not going to allow him to evade uncomfortable questions from the Republican president.
Thus, Guthrie insisted on knowing when was the last time Trump tested negative before his positive covid-19 test.
The host of NBC wanted to find out if the president had taken the test before his debate with Biden on September 29, but Trump failed to provide a clear answer.
For his part, Biden took advantage of the first few minutes of his event to criticize government management and to develop his ideas on how best to deal with the pandemic.
In that regard, he stated that if there was a vaccine before December, he would take it if science claims it is safe and that as president he would consider making it mandatory.
«If scientists say the vaccine is ready and has been tested, it has gone through all three phases, yes, it would take it and encourage people to do it,» he said.
4. The different tones of questions and answers
Biden’s forum sometimes seemed like a class on memoir and political theory: the presenter was incisive at times, as in the subject of a lack of answers about the potential rise of judges in the Supreme Court, but at all times the conversation kept the tones.
Voters also pressured the candidate on other sensitive issues, such as fracking or support for transgender people, but the candidate always responded in a moderate tone, with anecdotes and without exaggerations.
In Miami, however, the night was different.
Guthrie not only asked awkward questions that caused Trump to lose his composure for moments, but also demined the representative when he made false assertions and repeated the questions to him when he evaded them.
For example, when Trump claimed that a study says that 85% of people who wear a coronavirus mask get infected, Guthrie noted that he knew the study and that wasn’t exactly what the research meant.
When Trump defended his administration’s response against coronavirus citing a prediction that at least 2 million people could die of covid-19, Guthrie noted that that amount estimated the number of people who would die if not taken no measure.
But perhaps the viralest moment of the night was when the moderator referred to a retuit recently made by the president with a false theory about Osama bin Laden’s death.
«It was just a retuit, » replied the representative. «People can decide for themselves.»
It was then that the presenter reminded her of the position she holds and the influence her tweets have on millions of people.
«You’re the president. You can’t act like someone’s crazy uncle who can retwite anything«, he said
5. Biden’s recognition of a political error
One of the elements that has fallen during the biden campaign in relation to his political career is the crime bill he defended in 1994 that led to harsh questions years later.
When Stephanopoulos asked if it was a mistake to support the bill, Biden responded in the affirmative and said the project error had occurred in the way it had been implemented in the states.
The Democratic candidate considered the legislation to be «Indicative of his time», but that racial justice issues in America are different now.
«Things have changed drastically,» he said.
Very different tones
Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, periOrBBC in Washington
There was supposed to be a presidential debate on Thursday night. Instead, the nation was offered what was advertised as two grieving voter forums.
But while the events, which were broadcast in different strings, had the same format, that’s where the similarities end.
President Trump’s evening was controversial. From the beginning, he was pressured on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his position on masking and his views on white supremacists and the theoristsQAnon’s conspiracy.
Moderator Savannah Guthrie gunned him down with rebukes when he seemed evasive. The president was faster and nicer than during the first debate, but there is no doubt that he was once again playing defensively.
With a channel switch to biden’s forum, the heat went out. Moderator George Stephanopoulos allowed the former vice president to give long, sometimes tortuous answers. It felt like a public interest talk show, with solemn readings of the U.S. Constitution before trade breaks.
Trump’s forum made television more entertaining, and it’s almost certainly attracted more viewers. But that could be a blessing and a curse if what American voters want in November is something a little more, well, boring.