In the Fox News town hall, President Trump encourages the states’ re-opening – and promises a COVID-19 vaccine soon

Last evening, for almost two hours, President Donald Trump participated in a town hall event, "America Together: Returning to Work," on the Fox News Channel.  The program was much watched by observers on both sides of the political fence because of reports that the president will be curtailing his free-wheeling daily appearances before the media and the nation at his Coronavirus Task Force's White House news briefings.

The news leads arising from the town hall involved President Trump's enthusiastic prediction that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be available before the end of the year.  He was also upbeat about the country re-opening after six weeks of disastrous draconian shutdowns, as he insisted that schools need to resume as soon as possible, and colleges should plan to welcome students to their campuses next fall.  He also modified his prediction of two weeks ago about how many Americans would die from COVID-19.

TRUMP: I used to say 65,000. And now I'm saying 80,000 or 90,000.

The president also went out on a limb to state that he expected a vaccine against the COVID-19 pandemic to be available by the end of the year.  "We are very confident that we're going to have a vaccine at the end of the year, by the end of the year, have a vaccine," he insisted at one point.  There was a lot of content: the program transcript provided by Fox News runs to over 20,000 words

In lieu of a live audience, the town hall, which took place at the iconic Lincoln Memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., went virtual and included about 20 video questions chosen from 1,000 that were sent to Fox News.  The show was hosted by Fox News Channel's news program anchors Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, who also asked a variety of questions.


Fox News town hall, May 3, 2020: L. to R.: Treasury sec. Steve Mnuchin, V.P. Mike Pence, President Trump, Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum.  Photo courtesy of Fox News.

In the second hour, President Trump was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin, with everyone spread out before the statue of Abraham Lincoln and sitting the requisite minimum of six feet apart from each other.

The mainstream media apparently did not see much news arising from the event, since neither the New York Times or the Washington Post chose to issue any breaking news headline alerts about what was said.

The country is as divided politically today as it ever has been.  President Trump's supporters approved of his performances, while his detractors found fault.  That's what social media are saying, and it's what the journals of political opinion are reporting.

Right after the Town Hall ended, for example, a CNN guest commentator insisted, "Trump was overwhelmed and throwing up his hands."  Over at Fox News, on The Next Revolution with Steve Hilton, Sara Carter commented approvingly, "The president showed his empathy and common sense."

Throughout the program, President Trump spoke quickly and without notes.  His tone was upbeat and optimistic, in sync with the fact that more than half of the 50 states now are slowly beginning to re-open.  He's trying to encourage people that it's safe to do staged re-openings in order to repair the economy.  It was a mix of health advice to people concerned about COVID-19 and cheerleading for the "new normal" that awaits us.  For example, the president advised continuing caution for people who are over 60 and may have a pre-existing condition.

When I appeared as a guest analyst by video Skype on BBC World News television in the U.K. three hours after the town hall ended, the program host, Sally Bundock, was most interested in how it might have influenced the president's approval ratings.  That is hard to say.  Yesterday, the Real Clear Politics average of polls had President Trump with a 44.1% approval rating as opposed to 50.8% disapproval.  In a match-up with Joe Biden, the president is behind the former vice president in the average of polls by 42.3% to 47.6%.

The polls at the moment mean little to nothing in terms of the long run up to the November 3 election.  We are in uncharted waters politically, especially in the wake of the totally unprecedented coronavirus pandemic panic that has engulfed almost the entire world and changed normal life to one that many people describe as resembling an episode of the original Twilight Zone with Rod Serling.

With the country so divided now, every election including for the presidency is pretty much a bare-knuckles fight.  President Trump is beginning the 2020 campaign with his base of supporters solidly behind him and a campaign war chest that dwarfs the Democrats'.  The question is, can he expand his reach to so-called independent voters and even some Democrats?  In 2016, for example, he won the support of about 15% of Democrat voters who supported socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders when he ran against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination.

Adding to the unknowns, Democrat challenger Joe Biden is facing increasing questions arising from accusations that he sexually assaulted a young female staffer in 1993.  Even some Democrats and progressive media are saying Biden needs to come clean about this.  Meanwhile, as Biden's momentum, if he ever had any, fades, there is increasing speculation that N.Y. governor Andrew Cuomo, Hillary Clinton, or even Michelle Obama might step in at the last minute as a member of the ticket to run against President Trump.  Whatever happens, the months ahead promise to be a great show.

This exchange from the program's transcript was one of the more interesting ones of the evening:

MARTHA MACCALLUM:  Let's go to Carolyn Perkins (ph).  She's a retired nurse and an elementary school guidance counselor.  And here's her comment/question.

QUESTION [on video]:  President Trump, my husband and I thank you, your family and your staff for your great dedication to our country.  We pray for you every day.  The question I have is about your manner of presentation.  Why do you use descriptive words that could be classified as bullying?  And why do you not directly answer the questions asked by the press but instead speak of past successes and generally ramble?

The USA needs you.  Please let go of those behaviors that are turning people away from you.  Please hold on to your wonderful attributes that make you our great leader and let go of other characteristics that do not serve you.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:  Good.  I think I like that question.

MACCALLUM:  She's a schoolteacher.

TRUMP:  I'm not sure, but I think I like that question.  I appreciate it.  I appreciate the prayers, too, very much.

 Look, I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen.  The closest would be that gentleman right up there.  They always said Lincoln – nobody got treated worse than Lincoln.  I believe I am treated worse.

You're there.  You see those press conferences.  They come at me with questions that are disgraceful, to be honest – disgraceful – their manner of presentation and their words.  And I feel that if I was kind to them, I'd be – I'd be walked off the stage.

I mean, they come at you with the most horrible, horrendous, biased questions.  And you see it, 94 percent or 95 percent of the press is hostile.  And yet, if you look in Florida today, we had hundreds and hundreds of votes going up and down the Inter-coastal, "Trump, Trump."  We have tremendous support, but the media is – they might as well be in the Democrat Party.

And why, I don't know.  We fixed our military.  We fixed the Vet.  You know, if you look at the – the V.A., you take a look at what's going on with our vets, they have choice now and we have accountability.  We're able to get rid of people that don't treat our vets well.  They – they have been trying to do that for 44 years.  And because of civil service and the unions, you couldn't do it.

The biggest thing is choice.  We have done – choice – where, if a vet can't see a doctor quickly, they go outside; they get a doctor; they get fixed up; we pay the bill, instead of waiting for five weeks, seven weeks.  Look at how well these things are running.  We rebuilt our military.  We've done – we had the greatest tax cut, biggest tax cut in history – all of the things we have done, and yet we have a very hostile press.

And you understand.  I – maybe you're not going to say it or admit it and maybe you shouldn't, but nobody has ever seen anything like this.

So I really appreciate the question, and I – I very much appreciate the sentiment behind the question.  But I'm standing up there, and instead of asking me a normal question, the level of anger and hatred – I'll look at them and I'll say, "What's your problem?  What is your problem?"

You know, I believe we've done more than any president in the history of our country in the first three years, three and a half years.  I really believe that.  When you look – even if you look – Space Force – Space Force.  

Also, take a look at terrorism, Al-Baghdadi – we killed him; Soleimani – we killed him.  We killed the worst terrorists in the world.  We got rid of ISIS for – you know, we took over 100 percent of the caliphate.

When I took it over, the caliphate was all over the place.  

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about politics, media, popular culture, and health care for American Thinker and other publications.  Peter's website is http://peter.media.  Follow Peter on Twitter at @pchowka.