President Donald Trump refused to denounce dangerous conspiracy theories and undercut efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 as former Vice President Joe Biden called for a national strategy to combat the pandemic and painted his vision for America as the two held dueling town halls Thursday night that forced viewers to choose whom to watch in prime time.
The separate events took place after the second presidential debate was scrapped amid infighting between the Trump campaign and the Commission on Presidential Debates following the president’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis and his refusal to participate in a virtual event.
In one of the most combative moments of the night, Trump refused to criticize QAnon, the dangerous and baseless set of conspiracy theories that paint the president as a crusader against a shadowy cult of Satan-worshipping Democrats who traffic children for sex. There is zero evidence to support those allegations, but the movement has gained so many supporters that it has been adopted by a growing number of Republican candidates for public office.
“I know nothing about it,” Trump said Thursday, attacking NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie for asking about QAnon. “What I do hear about it is that they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that.”
Here’s video of Trump refusing to denounce QAnon at the NBC town hall pic.twitter.com/BmSHGYSlxO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 16, 2020
Trump also repeated his false claims about fraud being widespread with the use of advance voting and said he “probably” owes money to foreign banks amid The New York Times’ extensive reporting on his tax returns.
The two candidates shared vastly different opinions about the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 217,000 people in America. The president waffled and said there were “two stories” behind mask-wearing despite ongoing medical advice from America’s health experts that the use of face coverings can dramatically thwart the spread of the virus.
Trump also refused to say if he had taken a coronavirus test before his first presidential debate with Biden, despite being pressed on the question by Guthrie, continuing a trend of obfuscation about his health both during and after his bout with COVID-19.
“I probably did, and I took a test the day before and the day before,” Trump said. “Possibly I did. Possibly I didn’t.”
Biden said he had taken a test that came up negative on Thursday night, as he has most days. “If I had not passed that test, I wouldn’t want to come here and expose anybody.
“The words of a president matter,” Biden said earlier in the evening. “When a president doesn’t wear a mask or makes fun of folks like me when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then, you know, people say, ‘Well, it must not be that important.’”
At the same moment that Trump was refusing to disavow QAnon, Biden on ABC was saying that "when a president doesn't wear a mask, or makes fun of folks like me when I was wearing a mask for a long time, then people say it mustn't be that important." A jarring contrast. pic.twitter.com/rqppKQDUrs
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 16, 2020
Biden, who has been consistently ahead in the polls with just under three weeks until the Nov. 3 election, was relatively muted during his event on ABC, often going into complex, and dry, explanations about his proposals to combat climate change, protect transgender rights and support Black Americans.
The former vice president was pressed on his opinions about expanding the Supreme Court in light of Trump’s election-season nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and he largely refused to share his opinions (he said he would give an answer “depending on how [Republicans] handle this” before the election).
He also called his decision to support a 1994 crime bill he was instrumental in supporting at least partially a “mistake.”
Biden, asked by ABC News moderator George Stephanopoulos how he would use his own tenure as president to undo much of the work of his predecessor and Republican lawmakers’ attempts to stymie bipartisanship, said he would not follow in those footsteps.
“In politics, grudges don’t work. They make no sense. I really mean it,” Biden said. “We’ve got to change the nature of the way we deal with one another.”
At the end of his event, Trump was asked why he deserves a second term. His response was brief:
“Because I’ve done a great job,” he said.
We want to know what you’re hearing on the ground from the candidates. If you get any interesting ― or suspicious! ― campaign mailers, robocalls or hear anything else you think we should know about, email us at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.