SANDOWN, N.H. — Donald Trump swears the small town hall his campaign held for him here wasn’t debate prep. And after hearing the questions, maybe he was right.
After reports emerged that Thursday night's intimate town hall event was set up as a mock session before the second presidential debate on Sunday, the GOP nominee denied it.
"This isn’t practice!" Trump said. "This has nothing to do with Sunday. We’re just here because we just wanted to be here."
Trump later bashed media outlets for reporting, based on unnamed sources, that the event was meant to prepare him for the next debate and that those in his inner circle anticipated he would feel upstaged by Mike Pence's performance at the vice presidential debate.
"They always have a source," Trump said.
The town hall, moderated by conservative radio host and Trump supporter Howie Carr, had some elements of a standardized debate.
Trump answered questions with a two-minute timer clock on the floor by his feet. "Do you want me to call you when it goes over two minutes like I'm Anderson Cooper?" Carr asked. Trump said to stop him only if he was answering poorly.
Before Trump arrived on stage, Carr asked the audience to hold their applause until after the event was over. All requests mimicked debate rules.
What didn't mimic a debate environment were the questions. All but one of the pre-screened questions led Trump directly into lines from his stump speech and didn't challenge him.
While Trump’s answers were truncated versions of their usual trail riffs, the two-minute time frame was largely ignored after the rule was initially put in place.
The only question that would have yielded a new answer from Trump – regarding how he would define the income range for what constituted “middle class” — went unanswered.
As he capped off the questions, one of the last was about his earliest childhood memories. Trump answered about his father and recalled playing at his feet while he worked.
Moments later Trump complained that Clinton "gets all the easy" questions while his are more difficult, like "boom boom boom."
If the event wasn't debate prep, it was certainly a new setting for Trump to lob his characteristic insults. Among those …
- He called CNBC's John Harwood "the enemy" and "the worst moderator of all the debates" that happened during the primaries.
- He attacked the media at large for quoting sources that Trump says don't really exist.
- He blamed Republican Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk for poor poll numbers and a struggling re-election campaign, saying "hey, that's his problem. He wasn't for me."
- He lashed out against the Commission on Presidential Debates for audio problems during the last debate.
- He said he was "disappointed" with FBI Director James Comey for not bringing charges against Hillary Clinton.
- He dismissed pollster Nate Silver's abilities to predict elections because Silver didn't predict Trump would win in the primaries. Trump said Silver has always been on the "right side of what happened" in the past.
- He knocked Hillary Clinton's stamina once again, alleging that she wasn't actually taking days off the trail to prepare for the upcoming town hall but instead to rest up. "Hillary, frankly, they talk about debate prep. That's not debate prep, she's resting. She's resting," Trump said.
And while Trump may not have been doing the conventional preparing expected of him Thursday night, he did offer insight into insults he would avoid lobbing this weekend.
"I'd much rather have it be on policy and I didn’t like getting into the – into the gutter," Trump said, referencing how he held back on mentioning Bill Clinton's past infidelities at the Sept. 26 debate.