WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was evasive Thursday night when pressed if he took a COVID-19 test before his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden as the two men squared off again, in a way, after their scuttled second showdown was replaced by dueling televised town halls several channels apart.

Biden, appearing nearly 1,200 miles away, denounced the White House's handling of the virus that has claimed more than 215,000 American lives, declaring that it was at fault for closing a pandemic response office established by the Obama administration. Trump, meanwhile, was defensive and insisted that the nation was turning the corner on the virus, even as his own battle with the disease took center stage.

Trump, less than two weeks after being diagnosed with COVID-19, dodged directly answering whether he took a test the day of the Sept. 29 debate, only saying “possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.” Debate rules required that each candidate, using the honor system, had tested negative prior to the Cleveland event, but Trump spoke in circles when asked when he last tested negative.

It was his positive test two days later that created Thursday's odd spectacle, which deprived most viewers of a simultaneous look at the candidates just 19 days before Election Day. The moment seemed fitting for a race unlike any other, as yet another campaign ritual was changed by the pandemic that has rewritten the norms of society.

The presidential rivals took questions in different cities on different networks: Trump on NBC from Miami, Biden on ABC from Philadelphia. Trump backed out of plans for the presidential faceoff originally scheduled for the evening after debate organizers said it would be held virtually following Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

The town halls offered a different format for the two candidates to present themselves to voters, after the pair held a chaotic and combative first debate late last month. The difference in the men’s tone was immediate and striking.

Trump was Trump. He was loud and argumentative, fighting with the host, Savannah Guthrie, refusing to outright condemn the QAnon conspiracy group, testily declaring he would denounce white supremacy but complaining about the questioning — and eventually saying for the first time that he would honor the results of a fair election, but only after casting an extraordinary amount doubt on the likeliness of fairness.

“And then they talk ’Will you accept a peaceful transfer,'" Trump said. “And the answer is, ‘Yes, I will.’ But I want it to be an honest election, and so does everybody else.”

Biden meanwhile, took a far different, softer, approach with audience questions. The former vice president, who struggled growing up with a stutter, stuttered slightly at the start of the show and at one point squeezed his eyes shut and slowed down his response to clearly enunciate his words. At times his answers droned on.

Dressed in a blue suit and holding a white cloth mask in one hand, the Democratic nominee also brought a small card of notes on stage and referred to it while promising to roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

He said doing so would save “let me see... $92 billion.”

The two men are still scheduled to occupy the same space for a debate for a second and final time next week in Nashville. But the cancellation of Thursday’s debate still reverberated for both campaigns.

Trump and Biden battled on Sept. 29 in Cleveland in a debate defined both by the president’s constant hectoring of his opponent, which sent his support lower, and by its place on the calendar: just two days before Trump announced he had tested positive for coronavirus.

Trump was hospitalized for three days, and while he later convalesced at the White House the debate commission moved to make their second debate remote — which the president immediately rejected.

Earlier Thursday, Trump appeared at a rally in North Carolina, underscoring the challenge confronting him in the final weeks as multiple polls have shown him trailing Biden nationally and in many swing states. Trump has spent much of the week on defense, campaigning in states he won in 2016, such as North Carolina and Iowa, where he campaigned Wednesday.

But despite the polling, Trump predicted a “big, beautiful red wave” on Election Night, before referencing another one of his major challenges: A cash disadvantage to the Biden campaign, which just announced raising a record-breaking $383 million in September.

———

Lemire reported from New York. Additional reporting by Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Wilmington, Delaware, and Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe in Washington.

(40) comments

jth7100

jersey girl is correct, Trump is clueless.

jerseygrl42

"go at it"...how silly , how can anyone go at it with someone who doesn't know where he is or what he is running for...don't know how anyone with even half a brail could vote for someone like that to run this country..absurdity at work

Hayduke2

Thank you for the accurate picture of the Trump administration

jth7100

Actually NBC calculated that putting a side show out to compete with ABC was a good ratings move. Everyone you see on TV is wealthy and they work for those even wealthier. The election outcome is meaningless for them. It is all infotainment. The "liberal" media love Trump, he's ratings gold. Why else suspend regular TV schedule to display Trump against Biden? Their depending on Trump's usual feces slinging (which is dependable) so they can have a program to wring their hands and be aghast.

MRS M

A simple observation: feces-slinging is a known and well documented characteristic of the great apes and other related lesser primates, when they become frustrated, fearful or bored. (And let me be clear, I mean no insult whatsoever towards apes..) But you are correct, jth. He is what he is.

matts853

One person lied repeatedly, was angry, menacing and unpresidential. The other person was thoughtful and calm, and spoke and behaved like a real president does.

Guess who’s who....

JerryR

He needed notes to get him through it. Just like Dr. Evil - "Let me see...one million dollars!" (picture of Dr. Evil with his pinky turned up by the corner of his mouth) :-)Hahaha. Poor Sleepy Joe...

bosco

Some of Bidenz responses were so rambling that it was hard to guess the point he was trying to make. Shows what happens when he doesn't have his teleprompter.

Now imagine Biden toe-to-toe with Putin, Xi, or Rocket Man.

No wonder China and Russia are funneling money to the Bidenz and their campaign.

[ninja]

MRS M

Let's compare, bosco. Biden will NOT be writing love letters to one of the greatest threats to our nation, the leader of North Korea. Biden will not be holding meetings with Putin that bear no public review of translated meeting notes, and he will NOT be saying to the world "I can't think of any reason why (former KGB leader) Putin would be lying to him. And Biden will definitely not put any belief or trust into anything Xi says, about the origin of the pandemic, or his country's response to it,

as Trump vouched "for Beijing"s truthfulness" in Jan-March. News flash, Bosco. These are enemies of the state and a threat to our nation. Why appear to be the gullible buffoon that the POSPOTUS is? Still defending the indefensible. Please try harder.

Hayduke2

Jerry - you must not see many folks speak or had to cite complex facts and information. Just like president's who use a telepromter, having notes with FACTUAL information is not an unusual move. Did you ever see candidates in a debate writing things down? Maybe if Trump did that more he wouldn't come across as an angry manchild and would be more prepared to actually answer questions factually.

Lemmy

Hunter Biden was thrown out of the military for using crack, was in rehab at six times for drugs and alcohol (by his own admission spent four years addicted to crack), and returned a rental car with an attorney general's badge, two driver's licenses, multiple credit cards and a meth pipe so you can see why a Ukrainian Gas company would want to have him on their board.

Dwasserba

Then don't vote for Hunter Biden.

Hayduke2

Wow, Lemmy cites questionable foreign garbage once again. Ask Rudy, I'm sure he has even more to feed you.

pdl603

On the other hand, NBC should be embarrassed their treatment of the president was disgraceful.

MRS M

huh, piddle? When you return to planet Earth, you'll recognize that NBC (disappointedly so) actually gave Trump an hour of free air time, after this known coward refused to debate Biden....because he did so poorly in the first debate.. If nothing else, you might admit to yerself why Trump the whiny little bi**h is only is able to be interviewed by FoxStateTV. You might also admit that his "performance" of additional lies and chimera was put forth, while about 50% of the questioners were his own supporters or leaning towards voting for him... a completely fair set-up for your brilliant candidate. Plus he was allowed to have the moron behind him nodding like a bobble-head for the entire hour to distract. (See how "nice" NBC was to Trump, to allow this stupidity to go on?). What does it take to wake up, piddle? Geez, we really can't fix stupid, can we now? So, what was so terrible about his free hour? That he was asked repeatedly to answer questions that he gets away with lying about during his FoxNews call-in? Enquiring minds want to know. Who does the POSPOTUS owe $440 million dollars to?

JerryR

Lady, it's time for your meds!! Hahaha! Just like Sleepy Joe - Hey everybody, I'm going to win the Waffle House.....er, Honey, you mean the White House (Jill Biden).

MRS M

( (Is it any wonder that Trump voters are perceived to be stupid? Moronic? Clueless?))

Jerry, why don't you too enter the debate and take your best "Loyal Trump Supporter" shot at defend Trump? Yeah, I thought so.

awteam2000

JerryR, Speaking of “meds” isn’t Trump on the steroid, dexamethasone, used for a range of ailments, including arthritis, kidney, blood and thyroid disorders and severe allergies? Also cancer. Some of the side effects being irritation, agitation, confusion...

pdl603

Yes, Manic I am proud to be a supporter of a president who brought the country back from the edge of mediocrity which where it was under the obama administration ( still the most corrupt administration ever). DJT has instilled hope and opportunity to all, except you and your ilk. Wheezy would be 3 more months of obama, before handing the reigns of the country over to the tart commalah. What do you think of Wheezy’s new slogan? “I’m Wheezy Bindenz and I’ve forgotten my nessage“.

MRS M

You need to try a bit harder, proud piddlestream. Yer lyin' to yerself to state that "Trump has instilled hope and opportunity to all". Next yer'll be lyin' (oops, I mean sayin) that the pandemic is over, and pre-existing condistions will be protected for all Americans under the "new" but MIA Trump health plan. What a sorry lot of true believers Trumpists are. Will be defending the indefensible til the end. 18 days, buddy.

pdl603

Nice deflection Ms. Manic. Why do you support Wheezy the forgetful? What has Wheezy done in his lackluster 47 + years of inept, creepy, sexual harassment filled, racist and quite frankly corrupt public service career? Oh, I’ll tell you just because I want to save that single brain cell that inhabits that near perfect vacuum between your ears. He steal what Trump did and follow it. You see Wheezy knows something about plagiarism.

MRS M

piddlestream603, consider rejoining when you graduate middle school,. Or arrive with facts rather than meaningless repetition cut and pasted from FoxStateTV. Why not defend Trump's performance (ie lies) from last night? There's a softball for you.

JerryR

awteam,I rest my case.....Hahaha!

bosco

pdl603.....Guthrie was a shrill argumentor not a moderator. I didn't think they were going to get to any questions at all. Not sure who gets the "pants on fire" award, but Biden keeps saying that Trump told people to inject bleach and none of the softball MSM calls him on it. Neither candidate is inspiring at this point.

[ninja]

Hayduke2

I will admit to only seeing snipets but Trump's demenor and responses were pretty awful. I will say the few clips I saw showed the moderator not allowing Trump to get away with his normal bluster and non-answers. My opinion based on a few clips only. The few I saw of Biden showed a more thoughtful response but several appeared to be too long and contained some errors too. As far as the notes, I have no concern since most people give talks with notes or reference material so I won't make too much of that.

pdl603

You see what you want to see dukey. Biden was not harassed or harangued by the so called moderator. Snuffaluffagus, a former Clinton official fluffed Wheezy. I am sure that Ol’ Wheezy had the Q and As long before the network fluffed him.

Hayduke2

Whiny and playing the victim once again!

bosco

On the morning news today was a Washington Post commentator who is in charge of the WP Pinnochio awards. He called Trump's exaggerations all lies, but when Biden clearly lies, he called them misstated and exaggerating. MSM bias?

[ninja]

bosco

Hayduke2... too bad you only saw snippets. You missed Trump once again denouncing white supremacists. He also asked Guthrie and the MSM why they are not asking Biden to denounce Antifa.

[ninja]

Hayduke2

You post stuff that is so easy to prove wrong. Biden has denounced Antifa numerous times! https://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN2712ZA

bosco

hayduke2, thanks for the link. Was that before or after Biden declared that Antifa was just a ideology?

Since you only saw snippets, Biden again repeated the lie that Trump has never denounced white supremacists. That was easily discredited also:

https://www.factcheck.org/2020/02/trump-has-condemned-white-supremacists/

[ninja]

awteam2000

You may not have heard Bosco but Biden has denounced any violence.

Do you support fascism ? The acronym ‘Antifa’ (anti-fascism) is oppose to a fascist governance. Those spouting racial hate to divide the country. It not an organization as much as concept. Are you for fascism? Or anti- fascism.

pdl603

It is preposterous to think the empty vessel that is Wheezy will ever be asked a tough question and then have multiple tough follow ups. In a nutshell Wheezy was fluffed. The big take away from Wheezy’s fluff job he has cemented his flop on fracking and defunding the police. Georgey S. didn’t even ask Wheezy about the Hunter e-mails. Pathetic.

bosco

Last night if someone asked him what time it was he would've told them how he's had a plan to build a clock since March, just like the clock he and Obama built with those jobs that aren't coming back, and then proceed to tell us how the rich will pay for the clock. Oh, one more thing, free clocks for illegal aliens.

[ninja]

rickleelittle

Was the NBC event a 'Town Hall' or a debate with the 'moderator'? I can't wait for the event where Joe Biden is 'argued with' the entire time. For the haters, at least President Trump has the courage to appear on the hostile networks.

MRS M

I'm sorry, but you are misinformed, little rick. Trump lost the first debate, refused to meet Biden in an agreed upon second debate (being the sorry coward he is) and was grateful to receive 60 minutes of free air time to spew his lies, misinformation and self-congratulatory high praise.. It's actually a terrible shame he was granted the free NBC opportunity........like a child being rewarded for not playing by the agreed upon rules. In addition (slight correction here), Trump was "not argued with the entire time". Easily half of the questioners were his own supporters. He was given ample time to answer questions. And, sorry again, but a lie is still a lie is a lie, Trumpster. So when Trump told his malignant lie that pre-existing conditions will always be protected and ensured, it was fair and right for Guthrie to correct that fallacy, by pointing out that Trump's case before the SCOTUS is aimed at removing those exact protections. If it's considered "hostile' by Trump's supporters to try to correct Trump's lies, then his supporters are much more cult-like, desperate, or frightened than America thought possible. But then, it's 18 days to the election.

rickleelittle

Too much TRMS!

MRS M

Why not get back to us when you can handle the truth, little ricky?

JerryR

Great point!!

MRS M

Breaking news, piddlestream. Hunter's emails have gone the way of Hilary's emails.

With 18 days left, Americans care as much about any " emails" as Trump and the GOP leadership care about YOU. Not one tiny, little,miniscule, microscopic bit. (Sorry to break it to you, buddy. In the same way Trump don't care not one tiny bit for all " the fine people" out there at rallys, spewing Covid19, spreading the virus, and going out to be sure all 50 states are fully infected in Round 2. Hunter's emails? I assume you're kidding, right? ( For a minute there I though Mike Pence or AG Barr had arrived at the FNP, still doggin' for Hilary's 30,000), but only suckers would bite at that one, right?

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