Having seen both the unedited footage of President Donald Trump’s interview with “60 Minutes” he released preemptively last week and the edited broadcast on CBS Sunday night, you simply have to wonder what Trump was thinking.
Paired in the same show with a substantive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the differences between the two could not have been more stark. Or less flattering to Trump.
This is not a political observation. It’s a television one.
Trump and his supporters will claim — and have already — that Lesley Stahl was rude and out to get Trump. She wasn’t. She simply dared to ask him tough questions about his performance as president.
Trump got tough questions. So did Biden
Those same people will claim CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell’s interview with Biden was a series of softballs lobbed by a sympathetic reporter. It wasn’t, at all — O’Donnell also asked tough questions. But Biden just answered them. Not always accurately, either: In a cutaway, O’Donnell noted that Biden had misstated the potential cost of free public college. She also asked about hot-button issues like court packing and the supposed controversy around Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Biden didn’t get angry. And he stuck around.
So if that interview never got as heated as the Trump-Stahl one, it had everything to do with the way the candidates answered questions.
Was Trump hoping to head off the comparison by releasing his footage early? To control the news cycle? Maybe put a dent into the “60 Minutes” ratings — always a factor with him? Or did he think it made him look tough?
If it was the latter, that was a serious miscalculation. Trump came off in the edited interview with Stahl on the show just as he did in the raw footage he posted to his Facebook page Thursday: defensive and petulant, as if being asked about his record as president for the past nearly four years was a personal affront.
The sound was better and the picture clearer. The show cut away for Stahl, too, to fact check Trump’s answers. Other than that …
“We had prepared to talk about the many issues and questions facing the president, but in what has become an all-too-public dust-up, the conversation was cut short,” Stahl said when introducing the interview. “It began politely, but ended regrettably, contentiously.”
Harris faced more scrutiny than Pence
Stahl also interviewed Vice President Mike Pence, and O’Donnell interviewed Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris. Whether because of the circumstances or just an editorial decision, those interviews played out differently, also. Pence’s interview aired after Trump’s. Harris’ was interspersed with Biden’s.
Stahl asked Pence what happened with Trump. His response?
“Lesley, President Trump is a man who speaks his mind. I think it's one of the great strengths that he's had ... as president of the United States, is that the American people always know where they stand.” No one can doubt Pence's loyalty. He's aware of who his real audience is — Trump.
If anything, O’Donnell was tougher on Harris than Stahl was on Pence. At one point O’Donnell said Harris was the most liberal U.S. senator. Pence said that, Harris replied, laughing. O’Donnell said it was also GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan group, and pointed out areas where Harris differs with Biden. (By one metric that’s true, but there’s more to it, as a Washington Post story explains.)
If the '60 Minutes' interviews don't sway undecided voters, nothing will
One funny segment that enjoyed a social-media moment earlier in the week played like a scene out of “Arrested Development.”
After Trump left, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany brought in a giant book, which she said contained the president’s much-claimed but never seen health care plan.
Tweets suggested it was blank. It wasn’t, not exactly. “It was heavy,” Stahl said, “filled with executive orders, congressional initiatives but no comprehensive health plan.”
All that was missing was Ron Howard’s voiceover.
From beginning to end the audience — and voters — saw a marked contrast. We keep hearing about supposed undecided voters. If two debates and dueling town halls didn’t seal the deal, maybe the “60 Minutes” interviews will. If they didn’t, nothing could.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Donald Trump, Joe Biden came off starkly different on '60 Minutes'