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From QAnon to 1994 crime bill: These questions from Trump, Biden town halls really lit up social media

Joshua Bote
USA TODAY

In two separate town halls held and streamed simultaneously hundreds of miles apart, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden each had an hour-and-a-half to set the record on their stances on issues as far-reaching as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine to immigration policies.

While both candidates had moments that resonated with their bases, they also were scrutinized for sidestepping questions posed by the moderators. 

Trump elicited criticism for failing to condemn the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory and its viewpoints that he has re-circulated on his Twitter. Biden, on the other hand, was faulted for deflecting on his role on the 1994 crime bill that he authored  a former Judiciary Committee chairman. 

Town hall takeaways:A town hall with Trump was testy, a forum with Biden was much quieter 

2 candiates, 20 voter questions:Comparing and contrasting the town halls

Here are some of the moments that garnered the most attention on social media.

Trump on QAnon: 'You're not someone's crazy uncle'

Trump was asked repeatedly by NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie to disavow QAnon, a baseless conspiracy theorist group designated as dangerous by the FBI.

It garnered one of the most viral quotes of the evening, as Guthrie condemned Trump for retweeting conspiracy theories onto his account. "I don’t get that, you’re the President. You’re not like, someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever," she said."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.) condemned his response. "Trump refuses to say the same — simply because most of its followers support him," he wrote in a tweet. "Worse, Trump amplifies QAnon, which can lead to real world consequences and violence."

Andrew Pollack, who spoke at this year's Republican National Convention, praised his handling of the question, calling him "The Goat" in a tweet. 

Another viewer, Justin Lucas, criticized Guthrie for asking the question at all. "Savannah Guthrie just gave QAnon a platform they otherwise wouldn’t have," he said in a tweet.

'You're not someone's crazy uncle':Guthrie challenges Trump on conspiracy theory retweets

Biden on his 1994 crime bill: 'Was it a mistake'?

When pressed by ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos, Biden apologized for supporting a crime bill often criticized for jailing people of color, particularly Black people, for nonviolent crimes.

As the senator who chaired the Judiciary Committee in 1994, Biden was the lead author of the bill, known as the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. That was a point many called him out on, with one viewer calling it "dishonest" to say he only supported it. "Joseph Biden didn’t support nor just sign the crime bill, he wrote it!" one viewer tweeted.

Biden told Stephanopoulosthat it was a "mistake" to support the bill, but explained that the error came from "what the states did locally."

One viewer, Wayne Allan Jones, praised him for his explanation of the bill's failures. "He was asked about it, he admitted it was a mistake, but then he got into the particulars of WHY it was a mistake," he wrote.

Trump on his debts: 'Who do you owe?'

Following a New York Times report that found Trump has had low federal tax bills ($750 for 2016 and 2017), Trump did not deny that he was in debt to the tune of more than $400 million, adding that "it’s a tiny percentage of my net worth" and said it was "a peanut." He also added that the Times obtained his tax information illegally.

He explained, after Guthrie asked who he owes: "Some of it, I did as favors to institutions that wanted to loan me money." 

Many took him to task. One viewer said: "(If) 400 million in debt is no big thing (to) @realDonaldTrump, why not just pay it off now?" Another called him "out of touch" to refer to millions of dollars as "a peanut."

Biden on vaccines: Will they be mandatory?

When asked by Kelly Leigh, a once-Trump voter who is now undecided, about whether he would take a vaccine himself — and if he would make it mandatory — Biden said: "I would take it and I'd encourage people to take it."

He went on to say, depending on the severity of the virus' continuation and its distribution, that he would bring up the discussion of making it mandatory but acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing such a mandate at the federal level.

For many viewers posting on Twitter, it was a key issue. Some approved of his response, with one viewer calling his response to the question "top form." Others, however, criticized the mandate and expressed anti-vaccine sentiments — a view that has been exacerbated by misinformation circulating on social media platforms. 

Trump on DACA: Will you keep making cuts?

Trump was asked by Paulette Dale, a prospective voter leaning toward Biden, whether he would continue his efforts to cut the Obama-era DACA program, to which he said: "We're going to take care of DACA. We're gonna take care of Dreamers."

Guthrie called him out on this claim: "Under your administration, no new applicants are allowed," she said, adding that the program has, in fact, "been curtailed by your administration."

He also said that DACA and Dreamers were "somewhat different," a false claim, and attributed the curtailing of the program to the pandemic.

Steve Vladeck, a professor of law at the University of Texas tweeted: "To be clear, DACA and the DREAM Act are for those who already live here," and called his response "incoherent."

Biden on grudges: Will he 'take the high road'?

Andrew Lewis, whom Stephanopoulos described as a "disaffected Republican" and whose father worked in former President Ronald Reagan's first administration as Secretary of Transportation, asked Biden how he would "take the high road" in terms of civility and bipartisanship if elected to the White House.

Biden said that it is crucial to "change the nature of the way we deal with one another." "You don't question other men and women's motives," he said. "You can question their judgment, but not their motive." 

Many on Twitter praised this response, with one viewer calling it his "best answer" of the evening.