October 16, 2020
The president’s plan was simple: Humiliate Joe Biden during his televised town hall event on ABC News by counter-programming his own event on NBC News — one that would get even bigger ratings with which Trump could reportedly clobber Biden as the less popular, less energized candidate.
But as a rodent-minded poet once mused: Sometimes even really good ideas go completely sideways. (I’m paraphrasing here.) So instead of being able to mock Biden as the loser in Thursday night’s dueling town halls, the president is himself the metaphorical mouse who finds itself the victim of its own carefully planned trap. Per Variety, which crunched the early viewership numbers of both events:
Biden drew 12.7 million total viewers on the Disney-owned network, while Trump drew 10.4 million in the same 9-10 p.m. time slot on NBC. Across the entire runtime, the Biden town hall averaged 12.3 million viewers. In terms of the 18-49 demographic, Biden is comfortably on top with a 2.6 rating to Trump’s 1.7
As Variety noted, those numbers are not exactly set in stone, given that Trump’s town hall was splashed across a number of different NBC affiliates, whereas Biden’s was played live on each coast, meaning there are time zone considerations to factor in.
Still, by all indications the night was a rousing success for Biden, whose measured calmness stood in direct contrast to Trump’s cavalcade of conspiracy theories and typical self-aggrandizement. In fact, the best punch the president’s allies could land on Biden was apparently to compare the former vice president to Mister Rogers, as if that’s supposed to be an insult in the first place.
Conversely, at one point during the NBC broadcast, the president pointedly refused to condemn the entirely imaginary QAnon conspiracy theory — itself just a mishmash of other conspiracy theories based on satanic child sacrifice, anti-Semitic insinuations of a shadowy cabal of global villainy, and a heroic savior who communicates solely in the sort of hidden messages you’d find scrawled on the walls of a darkened room somewhere — claiming he simply didn’t know anything about it, except of course that he thinks they fight pedophilia, which sounds pretty alright to him!
Elsewhere he defended sharing a different bonkers conspiracy theory alleging that Biden had secretly orchestrated the murders of the members of SEAL Team Six who had, unbeknownst to them at the time, killed a body double of Osama Bin Laden and not the real terrorist who is, in fact, still alive.
In retrospect, none of this — from the president’s depressingly unhinged rants about terrorist body doubles to his assertion that he both knows nothing and everything about conspiracy rabbit holes like QAnon — should be all that shocking. If anything has become apparent in these waning days of the presidential campaign, it’s that Trump has a very, very limited set of skills from which he can choose. He’s perpetually stuck in the same rhetorical loops and performative gestures that were already cliche back in 2016.
The real surprise, then, is that based on the early viewership numbers, the public might actually be getting wise to Trump’s shtick. The jury is still out, and will likely stay that way until Election Day and beyond, but it sure seems as though not only can you not teach a old dog new tricks, but you can’t teach the public to care about the old ones anymore, either.