(CN) — Two weeks after being hospitalized with the coronavirus and 19 days before the 2020 election, President Donald Trump made his case for reelection and said he would accept a peaceful transfer of power if he should lose at a town hall televised by NBC in Miami on Thursday evening.
Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden held a parallel town hall in Philadelphia aired by ABC. The two political rivals were originally scheduled to debate each other, but opted to hold separate events following the president’s diagnosis with Covid-19.
Trump told moderator Savannah Guthrie that he feels no lingering effects of the disease which 59,000 Americans were diagnosed with yesterday. To date, the disease has infected about 10% of the population and killed 217,000.
Although wearing facemasks are a widely accepted strategy to slow the spread of the virus, Trump has shirked the practice.
Asked about the crowded events Trump attended leading up to his diagnosis, he said, “as president I can’t be in a basement. I have to be out.”
Trump said contracting the disease has not changed his skepticism of wearing masks.
“The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself,” Trump said. “One person dying is too much, it should have never happened, but we were expected to lose 2 million people.”
While Trump quickly denounced white supremacy and radical leftist Antifa, Trump denied familiarity with QAnon, a conspiracy theory that paints Trump as the savior of an unproven deep state pedophile ring.
FiveThirtyEight’s election forecast model currently projects Biden in the lead. Morning Consult gives Biden a 9% lead on Trump, averaging support from 93% of Democrats and 50% of independents. The same survey reported 90% of Republicans polled said they would vote to reelect Trump.
The town hall represents one of the president’s last chances to not only rally his base supporters, but also to convince the 34% of Americans who identify as independent or unaffiliated to support his bid for reelection.
Thirty-six percent of Trump supporters polled by the Pew Research Center expressed concern about the 2020 election being conducted fairly. Trump has continually reiterated doubts about election security.
On Thursday night, however, he finally committed to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election. Trump has been evasive on the matter when asked previously.
“Peaceful transfer, I absolutely want that, but ideally I don’t want a transfer, I want to win,” Trump said.
Eight months ago, Trump’s strongest issue was the country’s economy, but the pandemic has since shaken the labor force, from the gutted service industry to abandoned office buildings.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s September report, unemployment in the U.S. officially remains around 8%, not counting people who have given up on looking for work entirely.
Asked how the U.S. economy can recover from the pandemic, Trump straddled last year and next year, but avoided talking about the present.
“Jobs, real estate, houses, so many things are happening,” Trump said. “Next year, if we don’t have someone who raises taxes, our economy is going to be phenomenal next year.”
Trump blamed a heated feud with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for blocking a new financial stimulus package.
“I’m ready to sign a big beautiful stimulus, I want it to be big, I want it to be bold, but I can’t get through Nancy Pelosi,” he said.
Trump touted pre-coronavirus job growth in response to an undecided independent voter’s question about how corporate tax cuts help Americans. Trump warned that rival Biden would raise taxes and stifle economic development.
Besides the economy, Trump’s legacy will continue beyond his presidency through the three justices he has nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although Trump said it was inappropriate for Barack Obama to nominate a Supreme Court justice in 2016 ahead of the election, Trump said he nominated Amy Coney Barrett three weeks ahead of the election because, “there’s no reason to wait.”
“The whole ballgame changed when I saw how they treated now-Justice Brett Kavanagh,” Trump said, referring to hearings in October 2018 that centered on sexual allegations against the judge.
While Trump is considered the most pro-life president in U.S. history, he declined to say whether he would like to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade which set the precedent protecting women who seek to have abortions.
“I don’t want people to think I’m sending a signal to [Barrett],” Trump said.
In contrast to his infamously charged rallies and the bitter September debate against Biden, Americans saw a composed Trump isolated on the circular stage in Miami. With no corners to back into, Trump appeared to listen to the questions posed by voters and responded calmly if not thoughtfully to Guthrie’s fact-checking challenges.
Whether or not his presidential performance will earn the former reality-TV star a second season from voters waits to be seen, but it should come as no surprise that he concluded with a cliffhanger.
In his last close up, Trump promised, “Next year is going to be better than ever before.”