Turns Out Trump’s Town Hall Is All About Getting Better Ratings than Biden
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A tale as old as time.

The reasoning behind Donald Trump’s Thursday night town hall is exactly as predictable and stupid as you would expect. It’s not really about sharing a vision for the country with the American people; he has no real vision and couldn’t care less about the state of the country. It’s not about hitting the reset button on his struggling campaign, because he is, as a rule, fundamentally incapable of change—even when it’s in his own best interest. It’s about what it’s always about with this profoundly frivolous president: ratings.

Citing sources familiar with Trump’s thinking, the Daily Beast on Wednesday reported that Trump’s goal for the heavily criticized NBC town hall is to bring in higher ratings than Joe Biden’s ABC town hall, and to mock his Democratic opponent over it in the final weeks of the election. “He looks at this the same way he looks at attendance at his rallies versus the [turnout] Biden gets for his events,” a source told the outlet. “He obviously wants to blow Biden out of the water.”

Does that sound petty and childish? Of course. But it’s in character for Trump, who came to the presidency by way of television and has never shaken his preoccupation with viewership ratings as the ultimate validation. He never seems so proud of anything as he is when he brings in good ratings, featuring them on his Twitter account like a child taping his finger-painting to the refrigerator door. “The White House News Conference ratings are ‘through the roof,’” he boasted in April, referring to the press briefings that were ostensibly about the deadly pandemic gripping America. By the same token, there is perhaps no insult Trump can think of more gutting than allegations of bad ratings, and he levels it against media figures, outlets, and leagues.

Not everyone’s self-worth is defined by viewership data, and if polls are any indication, most Americans regard a willingness to do or say anything to stay the center of attention on television as a poor governing philosophy. Which is to say: Even if Trump beats Biden in this one-sided pissing contest Thursday, it’s hard to see how that would actually change the dynamics of a race defined by real issues like the pandemic, the broken economy, racial equality, and American democracy—not which candidate produces better television.

Even so, the decision by NBC to allow Trump to counter-program Biden’s already-scheduled town hall is made even worse by the president’s petty aims. The candidates had been set to debate Thursday until Trump contracted COVID-19, which he doesn’t seem to be worried about spreading but that Biden and the Commission on Presidential Debates evidently do. The CPD tried to put on a virtual debate, but Trump backed out, expressing concern that his Keep Interrupting strategy could be foiled by moderators muting his mic. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said last week. The second debate was scrapped, and ABC scheduled a Biden town hall in its place. In a move that has drawn widespread and justified backlash, NBC announced a competing event with Trump—at the exact same time as his opponent’s—effectively forcing viewers to choose which candidate to watch. That could, as the president hopes, be a ratings win for the network—but certainly represents another loss for democracy in an election year that hasn’t been especially kind to it. “The decision by NBC News to run a Trump town hall directly opposite ABC’s Biden town hall is indefensible,” veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield wrote Wednesday.

Within NBC, the network that helped establish the mythology of Trump with the Apprentice, employees were furious with the decision. “Everyone is upset,” an employee told the Daily Beast. Some of that anger has spilled into the public view, with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow criticizing the company’s move during a Wednesday evening interview with Biden’s running mate, Senator Kamala Harris.

“Are you as mad as everybody else is that NBC is doing a town hall with President Trump tomorrow instead of the debate, at the same time that Vice President Biden’s is going to be on ABC?” Maddow asked.

“I’m not touching that,” Harris replied. “I’m not going to tell the networks what to do,” she continued, “but I can tell you that I know who I’ll be watching, so there you go.”

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From: VANITYFAIR