On Thursday evening GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump held a town hall meeting in Sandown, New Hampshire. Even though he denied it, the gathering was largely seen as preparation for Sunday’s “town hall” style debate with Hillary Clinton. Trump is under pressure to do well after a terrible first debate. And to make matters worse, the consensus is that he was upstaged by the performance of his running mate, Mike Pence, in the vice presidential debate. But if Thursday night’s event is any indication, the upcoming second debate may be at least as disastrous for him as the first was.
The notoriously thin-skinned Trump is going to have to field some unpleasant questions from the audience, as well as moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz at Washington University on Sunday evening. But the pro-Trump crowd at his New Hampshire event didn’t hit him with anything that would make him squirm. Instead he got questions like “What is your favorite childhood memory?” and “Which team do you think will win the World Series?” And he only took questions for about 30 minutes, compared to the 90 minutes of grilling that is coming up on Sunday.
In his denial that the event was debate prep, Trump tried again to portray himself as a humble servant of the people, telling the audience that Hillary isn’t practicing for the debate, but instead, is “resting.” Then he added,
“She’s resting and I want to be with the American people.”
The entire gathering was set up to resemble what will take place on Sunday evening, with Howie Carr, a radio host who is a Trump supporter serving as moderator and manning a clock to restrict the candidate to two-minute responses. Chris Christie, a fan of the town hall format, watched from the sidelines. Trump was his usual self, going off on tangents, talking about what he wanted to talk about, and often failing to answer the questions. He also came across as uncomfortable in the setting. Rather than moving around, working the room as we have seen other candidates do, Trump spent most of the time standing stiffly on stage, close to Carr.
Of course, he got in plenty of digs at Clinton. He also revisited the first debate, parroting a complaint that has been circulated in social media and elsewhere that Hillary got easier, and fewer, questions to answer than he did.
News outlets were not impressed with The Donald’s performance. The Huffington Post called it “a joke.” The headline at Britain’s Guardian mocked the candidate, saying Trump was the clear winner “in [a] New Hampshire debate featuring only himself.” And CNN was perhaps the harshest of all, noting the candidate’s claim that the event had nothing to do with debate prep, then saying his performance “proves it.”
Observers felt that during the opening moments of the first debate Trump looked like he could actually pull it off. But Hillary is an expert at pushing his buttons, and when she did exactly that, Trump began his meltdown. He needs to respond to tough questions from average voters without losing his cool. But will he be able to do so? Everything we know about his temperament suggests that as soon as he is hit with something he doesn’t like, he is likely to lash out. Attacking your opponent is one thing, but attacking a “regular Joe or Josephine” could put his campaign into a death spiral from which he won’t recover.
We can only hope.
Here’s the entire town hall event, via YouTube:
Featured image via YouTube screen capture