Well, that was certainly something. But no, unless you’re clueless and out of touch, it wasn’t particularly surprising.
We got, pretty much, the debate I expected we would get. Before the debate started, I posted in a Facebook group I participate in, “I would give close to even odds that a fistfight will break out between Trump and Biden. (I hope so!) And better than even odds that the debate will devolve into a race to incoherence.”
That is more or less what happened. Disappointing, but not a surprise. After all, Trump was on the stage. And yeah, Biden has lost at least a half step. But he’s still a decent human being, unlike the president of the United States.
So, my seven hot takes on what we just watched:
- For the fashion conscious among us, who won the neck tie debate? I say Biden, 52-48. Several women in my Facebook group agreed.
- Wow, that was messy, chaotic and ugly. But going in, my assessment, given that Trump is trailing in the race, is that he needed a major breakthrough. My concern was that Biden would make some sort of disastrous gaffe, or would come across as incapable, giving Trump that breakthrough moment. Biden had a couple of wobbly moments, and he certainly didn’t shine, but overall this “shit show” (as CNN’s Dana Bash aptly described it just after it ended) seemed like a (nasty, disappointing) draw. And the status quo ante equals a win for Biden.
- I am hearing a lot of complaints from friends about Chris Wallace’s moderation. Why couldn’t he control the proceedings? “Wallace is totally ineffective,” one FB friend said. Another described Wallace as a novice middle school teacher who had lost control of the classroom. Sorry, but I have sympathy for Wallace. He actually tried hard to maintain order. It was just an impossible task. Trump just refused to listen, and bickered incessantly with him (then, too often, Biden took the bait). Trump: not a moderate, and viscerally opposed to moderation.
- Watching this debate, I realized that one of Trump’s greatest political strengths is that he invariably drags everyone down to his level. I mean, what was Biden supposed to do when Trump kept interrupting and goading him? He didn’t come across particularly well bickering back at Trump, but he would have look looked like a pathetic, bullied weakling if he hadn’t. No win for him.
- Biden’s best moments were when he ignored Trump and looked directly at the camera and delivered a populist message to the audience. Probably his highest moment was when he turned to the camera and told voters they were in charge and that they should vote, in whatever way worked for them, because their voices would be heard and Trump wasn’t going to be able to stop them.
- Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacy, which came through loud and clear in a revealing exchange in this debate (because those are people who support him) is really ugly and damning. I think conservatives sometimes have a point when they say that the media is unrelentingly negative and unfair about Trump, and that he doesn’t get credit for his (few) achievements. But it doesn’t matter. Because Trump lacks the basic decency and character and humanity and moral compass to be president. He’s a terrible human being, and it’s a brutal affront to our sense of ourselves as a nation that a terrible human being like that is president of the United States of America.
- CNN’s insta-poll says that, among debate watchers, Trump lost the debate decisively, 60 percent to 28 percent. So there is a god after all. Amen. Or om. Or whatever.
Biden’s win was not by default. No matter how well prepped he was, how could anyone be prepared to effectively handle Trump’s shit show? Despite the onslaught, Biden several times spoke directly to viewers, like the example on voting you cite. He largely succeeded in resisting Trump’s baiting and returning to his own script.
Re neckties: once again the D sported blue and the R red. Biden’s tie was striped. It would have been more daring if he had chosen a blue and red striped tie. Overall though, Biden definitely won the sartorial contest. I especially liked the natty pocket square.
Biden did okay handling the Trump onslaught, I thought. Somewhat uneven, but okay. He pushed back enough — “Will you shut up, man?” — and at other points smiled and showed forbearance in a way that allowed him to not look weak or cowed by Trump, which was important. And he had some very good moments.
But he’s not the most linear or coherent thinker on the fly, and that showed too at several points. Plus, for most of the debate he wasn’t able to finish an answer or complete a thought because of Trump’s incessant interruptions, so more than a few of his answers never ended up cohering into anything.
My point is that when Trump makes the whole thing about himself, surfacing his lizard id, there’s no way for us to judge winners and losers, at least according to standard metrics by which we typically judge presidential debate performances. But by creating this unseemly shit show, it seems to me that Trump did himself some damage. Perhaps not as much as the mainstream media thinks, but some nonetheless.
And Linda, excellent point about Biden’s devastatingly effective use of the pocket square!