The presidential debate is over and, as usual, both sides are claiming victory (including in a Trump email that went out before the debate). In the debate that Jake Tapper called a “hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck” there was no clear winner. There was a clear loser, however.
The bar was set very low for Joe Biden. Going into the debate, the Trump campaign had been attacking the former vice president’s mental abilities for months, often using deceptively edited videos. They’re still saying it, but after last night it’s a lot less believable
Biden was the old Biden. He stumbled on words a few times but showed plenty of stamina, energy, lucidity, and good humor in the 90-minute debate. Biden did lead off with attacks in the first few minutes of the debate calling Trump a “clown” and a “liar” at various times and asking at one point, “Will you shut up, man?“
Although Biden’s temper flared on occasion, the way he often turned away Trump’s attacks with patience and laughter reminded me of the 1980 debate in which Ronald Reagan laughed off Jimmy Carter’s attacks with a patronizing, “There you go again.” This is probably the only way that Biden reminds me of Reagan.
Trump was also the old Trump, and that was the root of his problems. It is difficult to tell whether Trump prepped for the debate or whether he just winged it after watching Fox News.
The president came across as angry and combative. With his continual interruptions and breaking of the mutually agreed-upon rules, Trump placed himself in the position of having to debate both Biden and moderator Chris Wallace.
In the midst of the brouhaha, Trump missed an easy layup when Wallace asked him to condemn “white supremacist and right-wing militia.” The resulting soundbite will get a lot of airplay.
Trump’s response was, “Who would you like me to condemn? The Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s gotta do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.”
“Stand back and stand by” is not a repudiation of anything.
Trump took Biden’s statement that he opposed defunding as a victory. The president seemed to think that it was an “aha” moment and argued that saying the words “law enforcement” would cause the Democrat to “lose all of your radical left supporters.”
In reality, the exchange likely hurt Trump. Joe Biden was not the pick of the radical left. He was the moderate pick. The radical left already knows that Biden is not one of them. The people who didn’t know that Biden was a moderate – uninformed voters and Trump supporters – will realize this after having watched the debate, which further undercuts the Trump campaign’s claims that Biden is a radical socialist.
The radical left’s dislike of Biden pales in comparison to their dislike of Trump. After 2016, few leftists will stay home or vote third party, and now, thanks to Trump, Biden’s moderate position was highlighted before a national audience. By definition, moderate voters are those in the middle. They decide elections.
Having said all that, the one key takeaway is that the debate will not help Donald Trump, but it will make people feel easier about Joe Biden. The bar was set so low for Biden that all he needed to do was string together a few coherent sentences without drooling. He far exceeded that standard and held his own against the bombastic Trump.
On the other hand, Trump needed to seem rational, competent, and in control of himself. On that score, he failed miserably. The president was the proverbial bull in the china shop. He seemed totally lacking in even basic self-control. Donald Trump came across as a male “Karen” (please excuse the expression, I have the utmost respect for real Karens that I know) who has control of the nuclear codes.
For the most part, I disagree with both candidates on policy, but Donald Trump clearly lost the debate based on his poor form and displays of unpresidential temperament. The evening will not help the president with undecided voters and will not win over Biden supporters to his camp. That’s what counts.
In reality, most unaffiliated voters don’t care much about policy anyway. And if they did, it was hard to hear any serious discussion of platforms over the cross-talk and arguing.
Trump supporters are claiming that the president won the debate, but they know better. The tell is that Team Trump immediately started attacking the moderator. If they were happy with their candidate’s performance, they wouldn’t need a scapegoat. The truth is, as Erick Erickson humorously tweeted, that Chris Wallace did about as well as anyone could have under the circumstances.
There were no clear winners in the debate, but there was a clear loser. Donald Trump’s performance underscored the urgent need to remove him from the presidency. If he can’t control himself for 90 minutes, why should he be trusted with four more years?
If you would like to continue the discussion on social media, you can visit David Thornton’s Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
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