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In Town Hall, Trump Says He ‘Up-Played’ the Virus, Then Downplays It

  • September 16, 2020

The president’s 90-minute appearance was one of the few instances during this campaign season when he has faced voters who were not already his committed supporters and a rare open-ended encounter on a network other than on his favorite, Fox News. From the start of the event in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, he seemed defensive about his handling of the coronavirus and sought to change the subject to more comfortable terrain.

Some of the undecided voters in the hall, who were kept far apart in the interest of social distancing, challenged him on his positions not just on the virus but also on health care more generally as well as on racial injustice, immigration and aid to those who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

Even as he appeared sensitive about criticism, Mr. Trump seemed intent on not pushing back against the voters who questioned him in the same abrasive way that he does with journalists and politicians who challenge him. When a woman objected to his interruptions and asked him to let her finish her question, he deferentially fell silent.

But he made clear there was only so far he is willing to go. Mr. Trump rebuffed a man who voted for him last time and asked him to be more unifying. “Sometimes you don’t have time to be totally, as you would say, presidential,” the president said.

As he often does, though, Mr. Trump repeatedly made false statements. He claimed to have fired Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, when actually Mr. Mattis resigned under protest. He claimed that “stocks are owned by everybody,” when in fact only about half of Americans have investments in the market. He claimed to have “tremendous African-American support,” when polls show it is in the single digits. He claimed that Winston Churchill misled Londoners during the Blitz in World War II by telling them “you’re going to be safe,” when in fact the British prime minister famously leveled with the public about the ordeal they were facing.

Asked about the shootings or deaths of Black Americans at the hands of the police, Mr. Trump called them “tragic,” but he then quickly shifted gears to defend law enforcement officers, praising them as “phenomenal” and arguing that they should not be restrained the way critics are advocating.

“You have to allow the police to do their job,” he said. “I agree with you, those events are terrible. But we have to allow the police to do their job. Otherwise crime is going to soar.” He added, “We have to give the police the respect that they deserve, and we have to give them their mojo.”

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