Trump talked about the pre-Covid economy and cited "tremendous African American support." Day pressed him for historical context. When was America "great?" Trump still didn't answer. "I don't feel like he adequately answered it," Day told me, "but essentially in doing so, he actually did. America was never great for black Americans in the ghetto."
Paul Tubiana of Bethlehem, PA was the first questioner. He asked: "Mr. President, I voted for you in 2016. I'm a conservative, pro-life and diabetic. I've had to dodge people who don't care about social distancing and wearing face masks. I thought you were doing a good job with the pandemic response until about May 1. Then you took your foot off the gas pedal. Why did you throw vulnerable people like me under the bus?"
I held my breath. Trump has never been challenged about his mishandling of the pandemic quite like that before. Trump's initial response: "Well, we really didn't, Paul." And then he blamed China and promised that "we're within weeks of getting" a vaccine.
"He didn't answer anything," Tubiana told me afterward. "He was lying through his teeth."
Tubiana is like so many people: As the pandemic raged, "I was feeling scared, alone and powerless," he said. He said "there were failures of government on both sides of the aisle" last winter and spring, but he felt like Trump stopped providing leadership as the crisis continued from spring to summer. He said he thought Trump stuck to "canned responses" at the town hall.
Ellesia Blaque, an English professor at Kutztown University, brought up health care: Blaque was born with sarcoidosis and said she'll die without the medication covered by her expensive insurance plan. Blaque asked what he is doing to protect people like her, and he dodged.
"He didn't answer my question," Blaque said.
She said she left the event fuming -- but resolved to do something about it. Going into the town hall, she said, she was "on the fence" about voting at all in 2020. That's why she qualified as an uncommitted voter by ABC's standard. But now, she said, "I'm going to vote for Biden." Trump "reanimated me to vote."
>> To be sure, other questioners may have been thrilled by the president's answers. These are the three participants who replied to me on deadline.
Oliver Darcy writes: "I found it rather maddening to watch the George Stephanopoulos special with Trump. Throughout the 90-minute town hall, he failed to ask obvious follow-up questions as POTUS rambled and spread misinfo. For instance, Trump repeatedly said that 'a lot of people think the masks are not good.' After letting him get away with that statement a couple times, Stephanopoulos finally asked Trump who has made that claim. Trump replied that 'waiters' had, handing the moderator an easy follow-up on a platter -- no pun intended. But Stephanopoulos apparently didn't find that answer worth interrogating, and he moved on. It was frustrating to see, especially after Jonathan Swan showed how effective it can be to just ask basic follow-ups."
>> Darcy adds: "I pictured viewers at home shouting at their TV sets. 'You have a health plan ready to go? WHY HAVEN'T YOU UNVEILED IT?' And so on..."