Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have held dueling televised town halls after their second planned debate was canceled.
Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has infected nearly 8 million Americans, including the president himself and killed more than 216,000 across the country.
“He said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic,” he told voters in Philadelphia on ABC. “Americans don’t panic. He panicked.”
“He didn’t talk about what needed to be done because he kept worrying, in my view, about the stock market,” Biden said of Trump. “He worried if he talked about how bad this could be, unless we took these precautionary actions, then, in fact, the market would go down. And his barometer of success of the economy is the market.”
Trump, however, defended both his handling of the pandemic as well as his own personal conduct, including staging a Rose Garden event at the White House where few wore masks or practiced social distancing, which led to many attendees contracting the disease.
“Hey, I’m president – I have to see people, I can’t be in a basement,” Trump said on NBC in front of an outdoor audience of voters in Miami.
Trump, who showed little interest in altering his belligerent tone, added that he “heard different stories” about the effectiveness of masks despite his own administration’s public health experts stressing the need to wear them to stop the spread of the virus.
“We’re a winner,” he told moderator, Savannah Guthrie, who challenged his assertions. “We have done an amazing job. And it’s rounding the corner. And we have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.”
Trump also refused to disavow the QAnon conspiracy theory during the town hall debate, saying he did not know anything about it.
The QAnon conspiracy theory holds that Trump is battling a clandestine “deep state” network of political, business, media and entertainment elites, often involving Satanic plots and child trafficking.
“I know nothing about QAnon,” Trump said when Guthrie asked him whether he would reject the group.
The events come after their second presidential debate, which had originally been scheduled for Thursday, was cancelled after Trump refused to participate virtually following his Covid-19 diagnosis.
A final debate is still scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The first of three scheduled presidential debates was widely criticized for descending into an angry shouting match, with Trump frequently hectoring and interrupting, prompting Biden to tell him to “shut up” as the two fought over COVID-19, healthcare and the struggling economy.
Meanwhile, Reuters/Ipsos polls show Biden has a dramatic national lead, although his advantage in battleground states is less pronounced.
There are far fewer undecided likely voters this year – about 8% – and they are just as likely to choose Biden as Trump, showed Reuters/Ipsos polling conducted from Friday to Tuesday.
Both candidates have traveled to battleground states this week, with Trump holding rallies in Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa and Biden in Ohio and Florida.