Trump struggles against an insistent moderator

NBC’s town hall revealed a lot about the president — and moderator Savannah Guthrie.

Savannah Guthrie kept bridging back to the facts.
Savannah Guthrie kept bridging back to the facts.DOUG MILLS/NYT

One can certainly understand why Trumpworld is furious with Savannah Guthrie, moderator of NBC’s Thursday town hall forum with the president in Miami.

Imagine coming on a major TV network in the closing weeks of a presidential campaign expecting to have an opportunity to present your version of things to the American people, only to face a questioner like Guthrie, with her persistent bias toward facts and truth.

SAD! as a certain president would say. And not just that, but a thoroughly bewildering experience for a poor fellow accustomed to the cosseted confines of Fox My Pillow TV.


To be sure, all of Trump’s traditional tricks ands tactics were on display:

The factually untethered assertions.

The endless cascade of self-directed superlatives.

The regular retreats into imprecision and ambiguity.

The propensity to counteract any citation of expert opinion by claiming that other (supposed) experts think the contrary.

Guthrie was having none of it. Measured but persistent, she refused to let the president run roughshod over the facts or escape his record.

Two extended moments were particularly revealing. The first came over QAnon, the utterly insane far-right conspiracy theory which holds that a satanic cult of pedophiles involving a number of prominent Democrats is running the world and united in an unholy alliance against Trump.

After outlining QAnon’s nutty notion about a satanic pedophile ring associated with Democrats, Guthrie pressed Trump to disavow it.

“Can you just once and for all state that is completely not true and disavow QAnon in its entirety?” she said. Trump first feigned ignorance, something he regularly does to avoid difficult questions.

“I know nothing about QAnon,” he said. Guthrie noted she had just told him about their belief that Democrats are part of a satanic child-molesting ring. Trump shrugged that off before adding: “What I do hear about it is they are very strongly against pedophilia, and I agree with that."


“But there’s not a satanic pedophile cult . . .” objected Guthrie.

“I have no idea,” Trump replied.

“You don’t know that?” she interjected incredulously.

“No, I don’t know that,” Trump answered. “And neither do you know that.”

Guthrie then brought up Trump’s recent retweet of a QAnon-related Internet article claiming, absurdly, that Navy SEALS didn’t actually kill Al Qaeda evil-doer Osama bin Laden, but rather a bin Laden look-alike — and that Joe Biden and Barack Obama may have had SEAL Team Six killed to cover that up.

“That was a retweet. That was an opinion of somebody. . . . I’ll put it out there. People can decide for themselves,” said the president, as though that somehow justified lending his office to that lunacy.

You can look at this one of two ways. Trump is either willing to indulge odious conspiratorialist nonsense for political reasons — adherents to that tinfoil-hat nuttiness see him as a hero — or he is not firmly enough moored in rationality to recognize wild-eyed idiocy.

Either way, it should trouble Americans deeply.

The other revealing moment came when an audience questioner asked Trump about his promise to replace Obamacare with something more affordable. Although the president launched into a diatribe against the Affordable Care Act, he never offered her an answer beyond saying, “The problem with Obamacare, it’s not good. We would like to terminate it, and we want a much less expensive health care that’s a much better health care, and that’s where we’re aiming.”


Trump has, of course, been saying versions of that for five years now, without ever offering a plan for much cheaper, much better health care.

Guthrie interceded with some important context: The administration is about to go to the US Supreme Court to argue in favor of a legal challenge that would strike down the entire law.

“In order to replace it with a much better health care at a much lower price,” Trump said. “And always, under all circumstances, we . . . will protect people with preexisting conditions.”

But there’s nothing in place to take care of that population should the ACA be judicially invalidated. Further, the administration has no workable plan for that group. There’s a reason for that: If you are no longer going to spread the higher costs associated with preexisting conditions across all insured people, as the ACA now does, providing affordable care to that population is difficult and expensive.

So if the lawsuit succeeds, the ACA’s protections for those with preexisting conditions will be gone, as Guthrie rightly pointed out.

Kudos to her for cutting through the fog — and not just on that, but on any number of other matters.

Trumpworld may fume and froth about the supposed unfairness of it all, but with her skilled performance, NBC’s talented newswoman demonstrated that the truth still matters.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.