Home U.S. A Full Guide to the Presidential Town Halls Tonight

A Full Guide to the Presidential Town Halls Tonight

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  • President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear on Thursday at separate, nationally televised town hall events starting at 8 p.m. Eastern.

  • Mr. Trump will be taking questions from voters in Miami. NBC, MSNBC and CNBC will broadcast the town hall, which will be moderated by the “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie. It is expected to last for about an hour.

  • ABC will carry the Biden town hall, to be held at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and moderated by ABC News’s chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos. The event is expected to last 90 minutes.

  • Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden were originally scheduled to hold a debate on Thursday night, but it was canceled after the president bowed out because it was set to be held virtually.

A federal judge in Pennsylvania last week threw out a lawsuit by the Trump campaign that sought to limit how mail-in ballots can be collected and counted. Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday said they were limiting the distribution of, or simply blocking, a report in The New York Post that made unverified claims about Mr. Biden. The stimulus bill Mr. Trump is pushing for is at odds with both parties on Capitol Hill.

With under three weeks to go, Mr. Trump has a host of targets he can point to as he looks to explain why things aren’t going his way. Where he focuses his anger will also provide a preview of how he may react to the results on election night, if he loses.

The candidates won’t be sharing a stage, but their competing town halls, which will take place on different networks at the same time on the same night, could set up a similar dynamic to the first general election debate this month.

With a substantial lead in national and battleground state polls, Mr. Biden is just hoping to run out the clock without any outside events changing the trajectory of the race. Mr. Trump, who has packed his schedule with as many rallies as it can fit, is seeking to drown him out with noise.

Will Mr. Trump try to overshadow Mr. Biden with his outbursts and attacks, which have exhausted even some of his own supporters?

The day before the town hall events, Republicans seized on the report in The New York Post about Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, which was so unsubstantiated that Twitter and Facebook took the extraordinary step of limiting access to it on their platforms.

The report, pushed by Republican allies of Mr. Trump, involved Hunter Biden’s work with a Ukraine energy company and whether he had sought his father’s help — the source of an ongoing baseless smear by the president against the Bidens. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president, but Mr. Trump has been intent on creating distractions to keep voters from focusing on his failures in handling the coronavirus.

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Keep up with Election 2020

Despite the many questions surrounding the report — and the president’s own history of influence-peddling while in office — Mr. Trump appears to sense a political opportunity, attacking Mr. Biden over the report at a rally on Wednesday in Iowa.

If he ignores voters’ questions at the town hall and steers the conversation back to smears, Mr. Trump risks inviting a political backlash among undecided voters for whom Hunter Biden is not a concern at a time of national crisis. And it would raise the question of whether Mr. Trump is being even more blatant in using information of dubious origins to improve his election chances than he was four years ago when he publicly called on Russia to find emails from Hillary Clinton’s server.

ImageJoseph R. Biden Jr. visited a community center this week in Pembroke Pines, Fla. He has run a campaign focused on avoiding unforced errors. 
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Time is running short for Mr. Trump to change the race’s direction. So Mr. Biden has a major imperative at his town hall: Don’t commit unforced errors.

For months, Mr. Trump has made unfounded claims about Mr. Biden’s stamina and mental acuity, and the Trump campaign has been eager to seize on Mr. Biden’s verbal missteps. Mr. Trump’s repeated warnings about Mr. Biden’s fitness had the effect of lowering expectations for the former vice president in the first debate.

Mr. Biden arguably cleared the bar simply by remaining upright and cogent for the duration of the matchup, but Mr. Trump is continuing to push the message that his rival has declined. At his rally on Wednesday, he said Mr. Biden was “shot” and had “lost it.”

Mr. Biden thrives in one-on-one interactions with voters, so the town hall presents a better format for him than a traditional debate. But Mr. Trump and his allies are certain to latch on to any notable misstep by the Democratic nominee, particularly any moment that can be used as evidence that Mr. Biden has lost a step.

So much of the 2020 campaign has revolved around Mr. Trump, and many people are highly motivated to vote in November’s election out of a burning desire to deny him a second term.

But whether they will be excited about Mr. Biden, too, is another question.

In the first debate, Mr. Trump’s relentless interruptions did not make for an ideal setting for Mr. Biden to articulate his own vision for the country.

The town hall will give him another opportunity to make an affirmative case for a Biden presidency. It is also another chance to appeal to voters who may dislike Mr. Trump but were not initially drawn to Mr. Biden’s candidacy, including many young voters who favored other Democrats in the primary race.

Mr. Biden is not lacking in subjects to talk about at the town hall. He has laid out a far-reaching and ambitious policy agenda, with plans to expand health coverage, combat climate change, shrink the racial wealth gap and revive the economy after the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. But whether he succeeds at pitching those plans at the town hall in a concise and compelling fashion remains to be seen.

Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, have had to navigate a series of tricky policy issues as they try to appeal to both progressives and more moderate voters.

One example is the future of the Supreme Court. Amid calls by some Democrats to add seats to the court as a countermeasure if the Senate confirms Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mr. Biden has repeatedly faced questions about whether he supports expanding the court.

Over and over, Mr. Biden declined to offer a position, saying it would be a distraction. But he said in a local television interview on Monday that he was “not a fan of court packing.” That answer is not likely to put an end to questions to him on that subject.

Other politically delicate subjects include issues like taxes, the Green New Deal and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Mr. Trump has tried to portray Mr. Biden as a tool of the Democratic Party’s far left, despite the former vice president’s reputation as a moderate. Mr. Biden has faced the task of keeping his party united while also maintaining distance from certain proposals that could be used to paint him as far to the left.

Katie Glueck contributed reporting.

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