President Donald Trump faced life outside his own political bubble on Tuesday, where his self-congratulation, buck passing and audacious falsehoods conspicuously failed to meet the moment when he was confronted by undecided voters.
Trump appeared at an ABC News town hall in Philadelphia, and peppered a socially distanced audience with the rhetoric and talking points that delight his loyal base. But if his goal was to satisfy relatively small groups of voters who polls show haven’t yet made up their mind, the President appeared to fall short and rarely addressed the substance of questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, race relations and health care.
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.
Trump was largely cordial and likely came across as strong to voters that love him. But his performance offered Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden multiple openings only two weeks before their first debate clash — one of the last potential turning points of the White House race. First-term presidents who have spent years expecting deference from everyone they meet often get a shock in the first debate showdown with a challenger keen to get in their grill. Tuesday’s event suggests the surprise may be especially acute for Trump when he faces Biden on September 29.
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.
On a day when America recorded more than 1,200 new deaths from Covid-19, Trump effectively told the country to ignore his own words to Bob Woodward downplaying the threat early this year even though he knew how bad it was.