Last night was the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden. It was a grudge match; “hard to watch” and similar sentiments are the main comments I’m seeing on social media.
As a Trump supporter, I enjoyed the debate for GEOTUS’s zingers and no-nonsense combativeness. He was aggressive and feisty, and clearly understood the Leftist slanting of the questioning (as Milo Telegramed, “Why are we still talking about climate change?” Chris Wallace was clearly in Biden’s corner in terms of the tack of his questions, and he didn’t interrupt Biden the way he interrupted Trump.
To be fair to Wallace, Trump was talking over Biden and Wallace frequently, and as the role of a moderator is to moderate the debate, Wallace’s job was to try to keep the candidates to the two-minute rule. That said, Trump was responding to a number of inaccurate and false accusations against him, including the widely debunked but oft-repeated Charlottesville myth.
I do think on the substance of the issues, Trump hammered Biden. Trump has facts, history, accomplishments, and morality on his side. His first term has been wildly successful by any metric. The irony of Trump’s presidency is that if it were anyone else in his position, they’d be lauded as the greatest president in a generation, but anyone else wouldn’t have had the cajones to accomplish what Trump has.
Unfortunately, for all that I loved Trump’s aggressive attempt to rattle the ailing Biden, I’m afraid it came across as bullying and unprofessional to squishy swing voters. Trump’s base is with him no matter what (especially after he refused to be maneuvered into denouncing the Proud Boys, a completely benign organization unfairly slandered as “white supremacists”). He’s got to win over those undecided folks in key swing States who probably love the president’s policies, but find the president personally distasteful.
Throughout the night, I kept thinking, “give Biden the rope to hang himself—let him talk himself into a corner.” There were a few of those moments, such as when Biden mentioned China and Trump jumped on Hunter Biden’s illicit deals with foreign policies. Trump continued to drive home the point that Hunter Biden—a former drug addict who dated his deceased brother’s wife—clearly got his cushy job on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma because of his relationship with the then-Vice President, and that Biden threatened to withhold funds from Ukraine if they investigated the company.
If I were advising President Trump, I would recommend giving Biden the chance to talk—and then hammer him. Trump has a winning message and a winning policy agenda, and Biden is a puppet for the progressive wing of his party (which Trump pointed out effectively last night). But the attempt at rattling him is obfuscating that message, even if it’s wildly entertaining.
Of course, the rattling did start to work, but Biden never quite had the mental break we were waiting to see. He did tell Trump to “shut up, man,” which will rile up Biden’s base. It’s unclear if it will help or hurt Biden, though. If squishy moderates perceive that Trump was bullying a frail, senile man, Biden’s “shut up” looks like a justified reaction to a brute. Or they may view it as Biden’s weakness—rather than shooting back with a witty retort, he got exasperated. I certainly read it was exasperation on his part.
Trump smacked him twice. Biden did much better than rock bottom expectations. Trump looked like a child, and deserved Wallace’s rebukes—but voters have already priced his personality in. Elsewhere, Wallace clearly running cover for Biden, perhaps out of pity. Final result: Narrow Trump victory.
That’s a very fair assessment. I think Trump’s petulance was justified, and the fix was surely in with Wallace’s line of questioning. Unfortunately, Chris Wallace is probably the least anti-Trump moderator the president will get in these debates. They’re going to get more shrill and Leftist from here.
Speaking of the questions: one glaring omission was the immigration issue. If there’s any doubt that the questions were written to help Biden, that’s a big sin of omission on Wallace’s part. Immigration is a signature issue for Trump; indeed, in some ways bringing it up could help Biden, as many MAGA folks are dissatisfied with the extent of Trump’s immigration crackdowns. But it also helped Biden avoid talking about his radical open borders agenda, so it’s telling that this crucially important that it was left out of the discussion.
My blogger buddy photog at Orion’s Cold Fire offers up a detailed rundown and quick analysis of the debate topics, and where he thinks Trump won (his initial post-debate post is also a good summary). photog correctly points out that Biden wasn’t a zombie on stage and held his own, but Trump landed some good punches.
My assessment is that Trump clearly won on substance, but that his aggressively combative style turned off a lot of voters. Obviously, whinging Lefties are going to cry salty Leftist tears about anything Trump does or says, but fickle soccer moms and decorum-bound Boomers are going to come away thinking Trump was a bully. I don’t think Trump’s bullying is a bad thing, nor do I think it’s unjustified, but most Americans don’t know the facts. They see a combative man who they always hear bad things about pommeling a frail old man who was the nice black guy’s VP.
Hopefully I’m wrong and voters could hear through the interruptions and clutter. I am rating this one a slight edge for Trump (with a huge advantage on substance), but a slight edge isn’t going to be enough to shore up swing voters.
Needless to say, the next two debates have just gotten even more important.
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