President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will be battling for the attention of Americans in dueling town hall events Thursday night.
The town hall events will be held in lieu of a second presidential debate, which was canceled by the Commission on Presidential Debates after Trump tested positive for coronavirus and refused to do a virtual debate because he would have to “sit behind a computer” and the moderator could “cut you off whenever they want.”
The former vice president‘s town hall will take place in Philadelphia on ABC, while NBC will host Trump’s town hall in Miami despite the outrage from NBC employees. The dueling events may mean more to Trump who is down in almost every poll nationally and in several swing states.
“Right now, it seems to me that the reason he’s losing is people are just processing this through the lens of how they feel about Trump,” Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist, told The Hill. “The town hall is an opportunity to do one thing, and that’s to get people to think about the race as a choice and not a referendum.”
According to Jennings the town hall for Trump will be one of his last chances to show the difference between his agenda and Biden’s and shift the attention away from the White House outbreak and whether Trump is still sick.
“You want people to think that you’ve got a better plan, or at least that your plans aren’t as scary as the other guy’s plans. But that requires Trump to articulate his agenda,” Jennings said, adding that so far, Trump “hasn’t articulated much in the way of a second-term agenda.”
Trump has had to fight battles on multiple fronts in the past several weeks. Between his performance in the first debate, calling for White supremacists to stand by and stand ready, and catching the coronavirus amid a White House outbreak, Trump has been falling in the polls and early voting has favored Democrats.
Trump’s town hall will likely be seen by more voters as it’ll also be aired on CNBC and MSNBC while Biden’s will only be on ABC. Republicans could point to the higher ratings as a sign that Biden’s lead is beginning to fall, but Democrats could say the ratings are because people want to see the next controversial action or statement from Trump.
“I think the ratings contest is far less of what matters because it’s certainly not inconceivable that more voters will pour a drink, get a bowl of popcorn, and tune in to see the Trump roadkill,” Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist told The Hill. “It’s entertainment in the same way as [the Ultimate Fighting Championship].”