Joe Biden’s campaign team would have been hard-pressed to script a more favorable event for the Democratic presidential nominee than NBC News’ town hall in Miami on Monday.
The town hall, staged outdoors in front of a crowd of supposedly undecided voters, teed up softball question after softball question and gave Biden plenty of rope to attack President Donald Trump. At the same time, moderator Lester Holt studiously avoided any difficult topics that might have been inconvenient for the former vice president or enlightening for real fence-sitters.
Biden was asked how he planned to unify the country during a pandemic. He was asked how he planned to stop white supremacist groups and reform policing. He was asked how he planned to ensure schools are safe to reopen.
One first-time voter wanted to know if Biden could “guarantee me that the American Dream still exists.” It does, Biden assured him.
The town hall featured questions from voters who allegedly haven’t made up their minds in this election. But the undecided voters whose leanings were identified were either leaning toward Biden or were one-time Republican voters who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Not a single undecided voter was identified as leaning toward Trump.
And none of the questions from the crowd, or from Holt, touched on controversial topics where Biden has been equivocal or that he has simply refused to address.
Holt started the conversation with a series of not-so-hard-hitting questions about Trump’s recent coronavirus diagnosis. Among them:
“When you heard that this president was infected with COVID-19, were you surprised?” and “A recent poll said 65% of Americans think the president bears some responsibility for contracting this virus. Do you agree?”
Biden said he wasn’t surprised Trump contracted the virus, and said “anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter, I think is responsible for what happens to them.” He called wearing masks Americans’ “patriotic duty.”
An unemployed flight attendant who lost his job with American Airlines asked Biden “what will you do to restore the travel and tourism industry?”
Another questioner who acknowledged she was leaning toward voting for Biden said she was worried that Trump’s alleged bullying during last week’s presidential debate knocked Biden off his game. “How do I know that you are able to forcefully lead this country moving forward when being faced with unforeseen challenges and other bullies?” she asked.
Biden assured her that he’s used to dealing with bullies.
“I used to stutterer when I was a kid,” he said. “I learned how to fight.”
Biden was never asked about packing the Supreme Court, a radical proposal several members of his party have endorsed. He has refused to say where he stands on court packing because he has said he doesn’t want it to “become the issue.”
Holt declined to broach the topic even when seemingly given a perfect opportunity to follow up a questioner who asked Biden about his plans to protect women’s reproductive rights “considering the new Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.”
Biden said nothing about court packing, and instead said “the only responsible response to that would be to pass legislation making Roe (v. Wade) the law of the land. That’s what I would do.”
Biden was never asked about abortion, or why he dropped his support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding for the procedure.
He was never asked about gun control, entitlement reform, China, or his equivocal position on fracking. No one brought up the sexual assault complaint leveled against him earlier this year by a former Senate staffer.
Two questioners asked similar questions about police reform, with one, an African-American woman, asking what Biden would do to “stop extremists and white supremacist groups.” But no one asked how he would stop violent leftwing demonstrations and riots in American cities.
The town hall received criticism for being overly friendly to Biden.
“It was a TV show that doubled as a Biden infomercial. Can’t blame him for doing it,” tweeted Marc Caputo, a reporter with Politico and a longtime Miami Herald staffer.
Dave Catanese, a political correspondent for McClatchy, called the town hall questions “pretty underwhelming.”