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Trump struggles with town hall questions on the coronavirus and race relations

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump town hall
President Donald Trump with George Stephanopoulos for a town hall event in Philadelphia, Pa, on Sept. 15, 2020.Heidi Gutman / ABC

WASHINGTON — The national and state polls all show that President Trump’s two weakest issues are the coronavirus and race relations.

And they were the first batch of questions he got at last night’s ABC town hall, which put him on the defensive from the get-go.

On the coronavirus: “So I feel that we’ve done a tremendous job actually, and it’s something that, I don’t think it’s been recognized like it should.”

On his admission to Bob Woodward that he tried to downplayed the virus to the public: “I didn’t downplay it. I actually — in many ways I up-played it in terms of action. My action was very strong.”

On masks: “There are a lot of people think that masks are not good... I’ll tell you who those people are — waiters. They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they're playing with the mask.”

On his statement that the virus will go away – even without a vaccine: “It would go away without the vaccine, George, but it's going to go away a lot faster with it.”

Stephanopoulos: "It would go away without the vaccine?"

Trump: "Sure, over a period of time. Sure, with time it goes away."

Stephanopoulos: "And many deaths."

Trump: "And you'll develop — you'll develop herd — like a herd mentality. It's going to be — it's going to be herd-developed, and that's going to happen. That will all happen.”

On the killings/shootings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake: “Well, I think they were tragic events, and I do feel that we have to also take into consideration that, if you look at our police, they do a phenomenal job. You’ll have people choke, make mistakes, and they happen... it happens… We have to give — we have to give the police back the authority to stop crime.”

Bottom line: Trump struggled on these questions.

Trump has never been someone who makes adjustments. Instead, he tries to bend things to his will — whether it’s the government or the campaign narrative.

But he’s found it difficult bending the coronavirus to his will.

Tweet of the day

The latest battleground polls

We’ve seen a slew of battleground polls among likely voters over the last 24 hours, and they’ve all been in Joe Biden’s direction.

  • Florida (Monmouth): Biden 50 percent, Trump 45 percent
  • Minnesota (ABC/WaPo): Biden 57 percent, Trump 41 percent
  • North Carolina (CNN): Biden 49 percent, Trump 46 percent
  • Wisconsin (CNN): Biden 52 percent, Trump 42 percent
  • Wisconsin (ABC/WaPo): Biden 52 percent, Trump 46 percent

By the way, we’ve now seen three high-quality polls this week out of Minnesota, and the closest has it 9 points.

Is it time to stop treating Minnesota as a true battleground state? The political environment there looks a lot more like 2018 than 2016.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

6,616,346: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 31,155 more than yesterday morning.)

196,742: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 987 more than yesterday morning.)

87.91 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

Seven: The number of virus deaths linked to a single wedding in Maine in August.

$12 million: The amount of a settlement between the city of Louisville and the family of Breonna Taylor.

Up to 105 mph: The top wind speeds for Hurricane Sally, which made landfall last night near Gulf Shores, Ala.

2020 Vision: Coons easily wins in Delaware

In the final state primary of 2020 — in Delaware — Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., easily defeated progressive challenger Jessica Scarane, 73 percent to 27 percent.

And for the general election, Coons will face Lauren Witzke, who has been linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory (but has since tried to distance herself from it).

As the Washington Post's Dave Weigel observes, “Delaware Republicans started the decade by rejecting shoe-in Mike Castle in favor of Christine O'Donnell. They end it by nominating a QAnon supporter for the same seat O'Donnell lost.”

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden, in Delaware, makes remarks on a COVID vaccine at 2:30 p.m. ET. Vice President Pence stumps in Ohio.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch is from Alabama’s Senate race, the most difficult contest for Democrats on the 2020 Senate map.

Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ new spot does something few might expect in a deep red state — it goes right at President Trump.

Pointing to The Atlantic’s story that claims Trump disparaged wounded and deceased soldiers, Jones attacks Republican Tommy Tuberville for not condemning those comments.

“To call these patriots ‘suckers’ and ‘losers’ is insulting,” Jones says. “Unlike Tommy Tuberville, I’ll stand up to anyone for our heroes.”

It’s a bold strategy to make such a direct contrast with Trump in a state he won by almost 28 points in 2016, but it’s interesting that the Democrat’s campaign believes it can be effective.

Biden makes his pitch to Latino voters in Florida

On Tuesday, Joe Biden traveled to Florida to make his pitch to Latino voters, and when asked by a reporter what the case for him was, here was his answer:

“That case is an easy one. Education, health care, immigration. The whole notion of dealing with COVID in a way that doesn't so damage the Hispanic community which has been hurt very badly, much worse than the, the Caucasian community. It's about talking about jobs.”

Biden has struggled to garner the same support from the Latino community that Hillary Clinton had in 2016 (she captured about 66 percent of the Latino vote to Trump’s 28 percent). And per NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece, Trump campaign officials are hoping to cut into Biden’s weakness with these voters — which can be most clearly seen with his anti-socialism message in Florida.

Biden, also on Tuesday, told Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart that it’s Trump who’s more like former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“He embraces dictators, he is more like, he's more like Castro than he is like Churchill. He keeps talking about – he has no, no affinity whatsoever with what average Americans are worried about and what they're concerned about.”

The Lid: Golden Oldies

Don’t miss the pod from Tuesday, when we looked at how one of the most important voting blocs this cycle could be seniors.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

There’s one problem for Biden’s war chest — Trump has federal dollars at his disposal, and he doesn’t seem to have many qualms about using them.

Republicans in tough races are talking about their support for covering pre-existing conditions, despite their opposition to the Obamacare law.

A lawsuit in Pennsylvania is delaying when ballots can be mailed to voters.

Young people, in some cases minors, are being paid by Turning Point Action to pump out pro-Trump disinformation messages on social media, the Washington Post reports.

POLITICO profiles Ron DeSantis.

Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris is complicating Republicans’ efforts to woo Indian Americans.