Surveying post-debate commentary tends to be as dispiriting as the debates themselves, but it affords some small illuminations. Aside from Breitbart, the Trump campaign, and the RNC, nobody on the right seems to be claiming that the president “won.” Instead, from most of Fox News’s stable to the Wall Street Journal and conservative commentators on the mainstream networks, they’ve taken refuge in false equivalency, branding the evening “a brawl,” “a shitshow,” “two children fighting,” “a messy debate with multiple attacks.” All of which recalls the old adage about mud-wrestling with pigs, but also shows Biden, staying on message, didn’t give them much to hit him with.
He emerged from Trump’s dismal swamp about as clean as anybody could hope to. You can snipe at Ol’ Joe, as many on the D side are doing, for missing some openings and not counterattacking harder. But he punched back often, sometimes well, and not too often: he didn’t overreact, didn’t jump at every brazen provocation, didn’t sink to Trump’s level, and in the end showed more grit and focus than he did in the primary debates. In that way, ugly as it was, this was a reassuring shitshow.