It was an unusual moment of exposure for a leader who demands constant public praise from his subordinates. On Tuesday night, audience members granted him the respect due to his office but none of the adulation he craves.
Answers that normally draw wild cheers at Trump’s packed campaign events fell flat when he was confronted by voters who appeared to want to cut through bluster and propaganda. And his responses did little to recognize the magnitude of the challenges facing the nation in a fearful year, suggesting that the President has yet to find the language or the appeals that might turn around an election he so far seems to be losing.
He said he did a “tremendous” job on the virus, insisted “it’s going to disappear” and that “a lot of people think masks are not good.” Asked who said masks aren’t good, Trump replied, “Waiters.” He bizarrely said “herd mentality” would make it go away, in an apparent reference to herd immunity that medical experts say could cost several million lives. The President has pounced on Biden’s verbal slips as evidence that he lacks the mental capacity to be President. But his own confusing answers after six months supposedly leading the national effort to fight the pandemic failed to inspire confidence that he fully understands the implications of the emergency even now.
He also illogically complained that Biden, who has no power, had not followed through on a national mask mandate and claimed falsely the US response to the crisis was the best in the world. And the President denied any blame for how the pandemic has turned out — placing the entire responsibility on China, where the virus first emerged, and several times complained he is not getting the credit he deserves.
At the end of the night, the President was asked by a voter named Ashley West to cite the most difficult part of his presidency and asked what he had learned from it — and in a way that seemed jarring given that the 200,000th American will soon die from the disease, the President reflected on his own personal sense of loss.
“I learned that life is very fragile. I knew people that were powerful people, strong people, good people, and they got knocked out by this, and died. Six people. It was five until about two weeks ago. Now, it’s six,” Trump said.
Trump defends himself
The President became most exercised when denying reports that he referred to US war dead as “losers” and “suckers,” calling them “fake.” He made halting attempts to show empathy to a new US citizen from the Dominican Republic who lost her mother to breast cancer complications a month ago and asked him a question about immigration. Trump responded by telling her that it was terrible that people died alone in hospital due to Covid-19 — and turned the answer into an infomercial for his pandemic leadership. Biden, who has buried a first wife and two children in a life marked by tragedy, is highlighting his own empathy as a balm for the country at a grief-wracked moment.
Trump shrugged off questioners who asked him if he agreed America needed to reexamine its painful history on race, again arguing that there were a few “bad apples” in the police force who “choked” in incidents in which unarmed Black Americans were killed.
The President also falsely claimed that Democrats wanted to remove protections for patients with pre-existing conditions introduced under Obamacare. His own administration is currently arguing a Supreme Court case trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act, while Democrats seek to preserve the law. While Trump says he would protect pre-existing conditions, he has offered no credible health plan.
The President’s appearance came in a crucial swing state at a moment when he is trailing Biden by nine points…