We Got the Best Version of Trump Tonight, But Biden Was Still Better
Sure felt like this was the Donald’s Last Chance Texaco. The last opportunity to fundamentally change the narrative. To convince American voters he’s not a small man with a cyst for a soul who lives in a big bubble of bullshit and braggadocio, to convince them that he’s not the person who they know he is.
And you know what? He actually did a pretty good job of it. He put forward his best Trump face tonight. When Trump wants to project seriousness, he does this somewhat unconvincing thing – his reputation doth precede him — with his voice, where he lowers his volume and adopts a pained, breathy tone. He did that for much of the back-and-forth tonight, and there were times when it even worked. In the early stages of the debate a friend on Facebook wrote, “Wow, Trump sounds coherent.” Seemed that way to me too.
And you know what else? Trump did a reasonably good job of not seeming like Trump, and nevertheless it didn’t matter. Biden still won. Perhaps not overwhelmingly, but comfortably. Game over (maybe, I hope).
This debate was the polar opposite of the last one. Instead of the can’t-look-away anger and the relentless bickering of last time, this time we got the false pretense of calmness and normalcy. Thanks for the artifice, Debate Commission (whoever you are)! As the debate wore on the façade of mutual respectfulness looked at various points like it was on the verge of cracking, but never actually did. We replaced electric and ugly but empty-of-content in the first debate with boring and sedated but largely empty-of-content in the second. In the plague year of 2020, that counts as progress.
Trump said some laughably crazy stuff. Apparently, he’s going to release his tax returns soon, LOL! He paid millions in taxes, that $750 was just the (uh, what?) IRS filing fee. He repeated his disastrously, ludicrously tone deaf boast that he’s been the best president for Black people (“with the possible exception of Lincoln”). He made the delusional claim that the Republicans are going to take back the House of Representatives in the upcoming election.
To be fair, Biden had some eyebrow raising moments too. He wasn’t particularly credible claiming, as Trump repeatedly attacked on this point, that he didn’t denounce Trump for being xenophobic for imposing the China travel ban, for example. Some of his defenses of his wayward son’s behavior seem more emotionally true than factually true.
But Biden also got stronger as the debate wore on. He got onto a roll during the last third of the debate, confidently contrasting himself over and over with the president. He was strong on health care, defending his support for the public option. When Trump tried to denounce him as a radical leftist, Biden shot back: “He’s running against Joe Biden because I beat all those people!” Touchê, Uncle Joe. When Trump cited the strong stock market as proof that he’s the better steward of the economy, Biden – who had clearly been well prepped – immediately switched into Scranton Joe, loudly and angrily and effectively pointing out that the working people he grew up with are hurting, and unlike Trump he knows their well being isn’t connected at all to the stock market.
For the close, Trump was Steve Bannon dark. Elect Biden, bad things will happen, blah, blah, blah. And Biden, in the best sign yet that America has passed completely through the looking glass, responded with a close that sounded an awful lot like Ronald Reagan-style “Morning in America”-style optimism.
So, Joe Biden = Ronald Reagan. A uniter, not a divider. Which may be why he’s going to win.