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Saturday, June 29, 2024

Trump dodged a broad range of questions as Biden struggled on stage

Trump dodged a broad range of questions as Biden struggled on stage

“The former president repeatedly evaded topics he was not interested in speaking about, following the advice of advisers.

Former president Donald Trump won points for his energy during Thursday's debate, but he rarely answered the questions debate moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper asked him. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

CNN moderator Dana Bash wanted to know how Donald Trump would fight climate change — the existence of which Trump has repeatedly questioned over decades in business and as president despite the voluminous scientific evidence to the contrary.

But Trump had a few other things on his mind.

“Well, let me just go back to what he said about the police, how close the police are to him,” Trump said in reference to President Biden — before talking about how many police groups had endorsed him; how the Trump administration passed an economic development package called opportunity zones; how his administration passed a criminal justice reform package; how “millions of people are pouring into our country”; and how Biden was losing support from Black and Hispanic voters, among other topics.

So Bash tried again — 82 seconds later — to learn what Trump would do, if anything, to reduce the effects of climate change if he won the presidency in 2024.

“So, I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air, and we had it. We had H2O. We had the best numbers ever,” he said falsely, quickly wrapping up his answer.

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Much of the focus of Thursday’s debate focused on Biden’s confusing and meandering answers, and the ensuing panic his weak performance caused among Democratic officeholders, donors and operatives. The consensus view among most Republicans and Democrats was that Trump was clearly the winner of the first 2024 debate.

As for Trump, however, he repeatedly evaded topics he was not interested in speaking about, following the advice of advisers who encouraged him to move the conversation to friendlier ground such as immigration and the economy. It highlighted the challenge of interviewing Trump — who often says whatever he likes no matter the question and bulldozes interviewers with long answers, including myriad topic changes and falsehoods.

Asked Friday whether Trump wanted to address any of the topics he dodged Thursday, his campaign issued a statement that did not.

“President Donald J. Trump delivered a dominant debate performance, focusing on the key issues like the economy, rising costs, and Biden’s border bloodbath,” Trump spokesperson Danielle Alvarez said. “President Trump’s debate performance was not only a master class but a devastating blow that cemented Joe Biden’s weakness, failure, and dishonesty.”

Alex Conant, a Republican political consultant, said Trump showed surprising discipline and was “effective in talking about the messages he wanted to push, the topics he wanted to talk about and he showed remarkable discipline sticking to that strategy.”

“He pushed the messages that were most helpful to his candidacy. He kept bringing the debate back to the topics that he wins on,” Conant said. “If a candidate ducks an issue the voters actually care about, the voters might punish them for it, but I don’t think he’ll face the punishment for what he did there.”

Sarah Matthews, a former spokeswoman in the Trump White House, said Trump was able to get by with evading questions because Biden was “not equipped to call out Trump. He wasn’t up to the job … He failed miserably. It was his job to do it, and he couldn’t.”

“It’s so crazy we aren’t talking about Trump’s insane responses he gave or his inability to answer the questions he was asked because we are all talking about Biden’s poor performance,” said Matthews, who has been an outspoken Trump critic since leaving the administration. “If any other Democrat was up onstage, the contrast would have been very clear.”

Biden also evaded questions at times. At one point, he inexplicably answered a question about abortion by talking about immigration — switching from a topic where he is favored over Trump to one where he fares poorly.

Still, Trump dodged far more often. The first evasion of the night was related to the attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results after making false claims the election was stolen. CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Trump what he would say to voters who believed he abdicated his responsibility on Jan. 6 by encouraging people to go to the Capitol and by not publicly denouncing the riots for hours after they started.

“And let me tell you about January 6. On January 6, we had a great border, nobody coming through, very few. On January 6, we were energy independent. On January 6, we had the lowest taxes ever,” he said, part of a stream of false claims.

Trump was soon asked if he would support a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israel. He has vacillated on the issue over the years.

“I’d have to see,” he said. He then dove into a stemwinder of an answer that was laden with misleading claims and falsehoods about Europe and NATO — and that had nothing to do with Israel or Palestinians.

Later in the debate, Tapper said it cost more than $11,000 per year to raise a child in the United States, and that the cost of child care for two children is higher than rent for many Americans. What would Trump to do to make child care more affordable?, Tapper asked.

Trump instead bragged about firing John F. Kelly, his former chief of staff, a topic that had come up earlier in the debate. He also touted his firing of James B. Comey, the former FBI director. “They were no good,” he said.

The former president then launched into criticizing Biden for not firing people and called Biden the “worst president” in the history of the United States. For two minutes, he attacked Biden on a range of issues, including immigration and the U.S. military’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“If he wins this election, our country doesn’t have a chance. Not even a chance of coming out of this rut. We probably won’t have a country left anymore. That’s how bad it is. He is the worst in history by far,” Trump said.

Tapper asked again if Trump would like to talk about child care after Biden spoke. Trump, whose administration passed a child-care tax credit, was not interested.

“Just so you understand, we have polling. We have other things that do — they rate him the worst because what he’s done is so bad,” he began, speaking for another minute about Biden without discussing the cost of child care.

Trump was asked later what he would do to limit the scourge of opioids in the United States and the deaths they cause. He alleged without evidence that Biden was a “Manchurian candidate” who was paid by China, that his tariff policy worked, that he saved “our steel industries” and a range of other false and misleading claims.

Tapper asked again about opioids without luck.

One more time, Tapper tried. It didn’t work, as Trump veered from immigration policy to Russia’s imprisonment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

“I will have him out very quickly, as soon as I take office, before I take office,” Trump said, bragging about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The conversation again moved to the Jan. 6 attack and whether Trump would accept the results of the 2024 election if Biden won. Trump instead talked about how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would have never started if he had won reelection.

“If it’s a fair and legal and good election — absolutely,” he said, before reverting to false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “I would have much rather accepted these but the fraud and everything else was ridiculous that if you want, we’ll have a news conference on it in a week or we’ll have another one of these on, in a week.”

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