President Donald Trump and his main rival in the presidential election Joe Biden held two separate town hall events on Thursday evening.
Both aired at the same exact time on different television networks.
The situation came about due to Trump’s refusal to participate in a town hall debate with Biden after the Commission on Presidential Debates changed the rules to ensure everyone involved would be safe from coronavirus, following the president’s positive diagnosis earlier this month.
After Trump canceled, Biden scheduled a town hall for 8 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday evening on ABC. Trump scheduled his own town hall, several days after Biden made his plans, to take place at the exact same time on NBC networks.
The two competing town halls had many wondering whether the ratings-obsessed Trump would brag about having a higher viewership or not versus Biden.
Most probably expected Trump to have the higher numbers, if only because a great number of Americans wanted to see if he’d act out in similar ways to how he behaved during the two candidates’ first debate.
But it was Biden who ended having a larger television viewership, according to Nielsen numbers, a statistic that even surprised network executives at ABC.
According to the numbers calculated by Nielsen, Biden averaged around 13.9 million viewers on ABC alone.
Trump, meanwhile, had 10.6 million viewers on average tuned into his event on NBC.
His town hall was also broadcast on cable stations, but when all the numbers were added up, his total average viewership was around 13 million viewers, almost 1 million short of what Biden pulled in.
The numbers published by Nielsen do not include streaming totals, a point that Trump, if (or when) he discusses his ratings, will likely bring up. The president made such complaints about viewership comparisons after each candidates’ respective national conventions and speeches occurred.
The Republican National Convention averaged around 19.4 million viewers per night, while the Democratic National Convention had around 21.6 million. Trump’s speech saw 23.4 million viewers tune in to hear him speak, while Biden beat him there, too, with 24.6 million.
Afterward, Trump claimed — citing his own numbers from his campaign that were not verified — that he had hundreds of millions of viewers hear him speak on streaming devices.
“The Fake News doesn’t want to report these numbers,” Trump said.
The president has frequently brought up, usually unprovoked, his television ratings as proof of his popularity.
Earlier this year, he bragged about his press conferences on the coronavirus pandemic having ratings that went “through the roof,” though in the same statement he claimed he doesn’t “care about that.”
I’ve had great “ratings” my whole life, there’s nothing unusual about that for me. The White House News Conference ratings are “through the roof”(Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale , @nytimes) but I don’t care about that. I care about going around the Fake News to the PEOPLE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
It’s been apparent, however, that throughout his presidency Trump has cared, at least somewhat, about his popularity and viewership. After it was visually clear that Trump had a smaller inauguration crowd size in 2017 compared to former President Barack Obama, Trump pushed then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer to lie to the media.
Regarding the town halls on Thursday themselves, it was clear that the two candidates had different beliefs about how to interact with participants and the hosts, with Trump being more forceful and Biden exhibiting a more calm demeanor, observers noted.
“Mr. Biden’s ABC town hall had all the fireworks of a vintage episode of ‘This Week With David Brinkley.’ Mr. Trump’s NBC forum had all the subtlety of a professional wrestling match,” an analysis from The New York Times noted.
Trump himself had to defend against fact-checking from host Savannah Guthrie, who, depending on your political perspective, either held the president to task for his past statements or treated him unfairly during the event.
Guthrie, for example, asked Trump about his penchant for sharing discredited and false information on his Twitter account, including retweeting a post from a QAnon user alleging a false conspiracy theory that suggested Biden and Obama had secretly killed off members of Seal Team Six in order to cover up Osama bin Laden still being alive.
There is no truth whatsoever to the allegations made in that tweet, which was shared to Trump’s tens of millions of Twitter followers after he retweeted it last week. Guthrie asked Trump on Thursday night why he would share such a demonstrably false story.
“That was a retweet, that was an opinion of somebody, and that was a retweet,” Trump insisted. “I’ll put it out there, people can decide for themselves, I don’t take a position.”
Guthrie didn’t hold back her feelings on the matter.
“I don’t get that. You’re the president — you’re not like someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever,” she said.