On Thursday evening, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden each took to a stage to participate in a town hall event.
That’s about where the similarities ended.
Trump’s town hall took on the character of most of his presidency: It was rife with sweaty anger, he gave rambling answers to unasked questions, made countless false claims, and spouted conspiracy theories.
Vice President Biden’s town hall, however, was almost eerily calm. The Democratic nominee gave relatively detailed answers to the questions that were asked, didn’t raise his voice, didn’t yell at the interviewer, didn’t spout things that were comically untrue.
It was… boring. Or at least it would have been if it hadn’t stood in such sharp contrast to Trump’s performance. Instead it served as a strange throwback to what life used to be like. And what a freaking relief it was.
The differences between Trump and Biden are, and have been, clear. But the set up of the dueling events, which played out in real time, made those differences impossible to ignore. It was like watching parallel realities.
The striking contrast did not go unnoticed online.
do you want your president to be melatonin or pcp
— Marlow Stern (@MarlowNYC) October 16, 2020
the Biden townhall is refreshingly boring
— b-boy boooo-eebaisse (@jbouie) October 16, 2020
This Biden town hall is making a strong case that his presidency will be a ratings disaster — a lot of somewhat longwinded, detailed answers to policy questions.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 16, 2020
Biden 2020: What if politics could feel like this, rather than [changes channel to the Trump townhall] like that?
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) October 16, 2020
The only good thing about these two competing town hall events is that they show how much Biden is held to a different standard as an actual rational human being while Trump just has to get through an hour without lighting a bucket of mice on fire
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) October 16, 2020
If you missed either or both of the events, Trump was in Miami sparring with NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie. He responded to her followups by condescendingly calling her lines of questioning “cute” and saying she was getting things wrong. He repeatedly refused to condemn QAnon, the bonkers conspiracy theory that has allegedly inspired actual killings. He spouted a totally untrue, dangerous claim that 85 percent of mask-wearers catch COVID-19. He all but admitted he owed more than $400 million to creditors but downplayed that fact.
Trump has now said twice today that the CDC found that 85% of people who wear masks catch the coronavirus. This is transparently ridiculous, not even close to what the CDC study said. I’ll have a piece soon.
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 15, 2020
Biden, meanwhile, sat serenely in a chair across the stage from ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and mostly just answered the questions that were asked of him. He talked at length about tax policy, admitted he made mistakes with the 1994 crime bill, and laid out how he would’ve handled the coronavirus differently than Trump.
Even Mercedes Schlapp, an adviser to the Trump campaign, kind of accidentally backed the idea that Biden’s town hall was calmly reassuring.
To be clear, just being more normal isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. The country is on fire. A pandemic remains almost completely unchecked. There are more problems to fix than hours in the day. If Biden were to win, there is no going back to how things were. Just go to brunch and forget about it isn’t going to be an option for the foreseeable future.
But the side-by-side town halls showcased in a very clear light that only one candidate in this race is engaging with the facts. That used to — and still should be — the bare minimum, but we all know it’s not anymore.