Opinion: Trump wasted a big opportunity

 Opinion: Trump wasted a big opportunity

Joe Lockhart
The NBC town hall was a disaster on multiple fronts for the President. First, he and Guthrie spent nearly half the one-hour session talking about his failed response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The President used retread lines that didn’t actually address the current situation as Covid-19 cases are dangerously spiking again in our country. Trump did nothing to mitigate the impression that his own incompetence and indifference have led to a disaster in which more than 217,000 have died.
In fact, he made it worse. By publicly endorsing Dr. Scott Atlas as his key medical adviser and leaning heavily into the dangerous herd immunity theory, he gave Democrats a new opening to attack his handling of the situation. Politically, it was the most damaging thing and it dominated the entire town hall. Almost 70% of the country believes he mishandled the pandemic, according to the latest CNN poll, and he did nothing to change that impression. Put simply, when Trump’s talking Covid, he’s losing.
Trump's most influential legacy

Yet the real malpractice of his performance Thursday night was never clearly defining what or who he is running against. By my count, the first direct shot he took at his actual opponent, Joe Biden, came more than halfway through the town hall. Before that he criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former President Barack Obama multiple times, yet none of them are on the ballot.

In fact, Trump seemed to be running against his perceived enemies, not his actual opponent. He spent much of the first half hour attacking the media, although, ironically, he said his source on voter fraud is the newspapers. Looking at my absentee ballot, I don’t see any of them on it. His goal all along should have been to define and defy Biden. His performance, driven by a toxic combination of ego and victimhood, instead was designed to defend himself against all attackers.

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There were a series of literal political head scratching moments. By eluding Guthrie’s question on the New York Times investigation into his tax returns, Trump confirmed he owes $421 million but wouldn’t say to whom. The President went ahead and claimed that the debt is just “a tiny percentage” of his net worth. At best, that leaves a nefarious impression. He also seemed to confirm the two years of just paying $750 in taxes by likening it to some sort of filing fee.
In fact, on all the outstanding media questions, he made things worse. He could not, or would not say when his last negative Covid test was before he was infected, breathing new life into a question that had begun to fade. He continued to feign ignorance on Qanon, a group that promotes debunked conspiracy theories, despite detailed domestic terrorism assessments from the government he allegedly runs. When Guthrie pressed him, his answer was literally laughable, saying all he knows is Qanon is very strong against pedophiles. He literally lost his temper because Guthrie would not let him off the hook on not denouncing white supremacy. If his strategy was to lure undecided voters, he failed. If his strategy was something else at this point, well it’s just not a good strategy.

On the positive side, he reassured Republicans and corporate America with his answer on corporate taxes and avoided opposing Roe v. Wade explicitly, which would have turned the gender gap into the gender ocean. Not sure he reassured a lot of social conservatives with that one though.

The bottom line is, down by double digits in the polls, Trump did not change many minds Thursday night. He came off as an anti-masker, tax dodger, super spreader, killer of Obamacare and pre-existing conditions coverage, a critic of his own government and someone who continues to be challenged by telling the truth on the simplest of subjects. I doubt he lost votes because of any of this, but he’s in the game of winning votes at this point with the clock running out. Another opportunity wasted.

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