Last night, many people who never watch Fox got a full dose of Trump, and suddenly realized that he's not just the butt of their friend's jokes, he's a uniquely dangerous person who could do untold damage in the next four years.
As a journalist I viewed, sometimes covered from the studio, presidential debates, but in those four decades never encountered such a humiliation of our democracy. I even felt a bit of sorrow for moderator Chris Wallace who was simply overrun by Donald Trump’s disregard for rules
It was a traditional debate only on one side--Joe Biden's--and he won it hands down: with facts, clear arguments, apt criticisms of Trump's mismanagement, a strong voice (not a scintilla of evidence of "cognitive impairment," as Donald Trump has charged), demonstrations of compassion and calls for national unity.
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.”
It's certain he lost support with women, especially in the suburbs. One of the follow-up commentaries was that it was like driving down the freeway with an 8-year-old having a tantrum in the backseat.
This debate will be remembered as Trump v. Wallace. That takes the focus away from Biden's message and (as usual) makes the evening All About Trump. That's a mistake, since Trump is trying to make it a choice election (Trump or Biden) not about Trump's performance and personality.
In every American boxing movie between 1930 and 1960, there was a little guy in a white shirt and bow tie acting as referee. Chris Wallace was born to play that guy. But that guy knew a foul when he saw one. Chris, the famous conscience of Fox, saw dozens and barely raised his voice. This match was so unrefereed that an RKO crowd would have charged the ring. But there was no crowd. No count. No decision. Chris, say it ain’t so . . .
I imagine Trump's hard-core base enjoyed seeing Trump do his thing, which in this case was to display dominance behavior as best he could over Biden and Wallace. He was in his game, but he didn't knock Biden off his game.
How a decent man like Joe Biden weathered the 90 minutes deserves a medal. I felt for Chris Wallace, knowing that I would not have been able to take control of Donald Trump, either.
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.
Let’s not do this again. Biden caught on early and laughed at Trump. “Will you shut up, man?” “Would you tell him to shush?”His best line: “It is what it is, and you are what you are.” Otherwise all farce. Trump ridiculous and nasty, Biden steady and sane despite it all.
So Biden looks like he reaches the people and Trump at best is sending messages only to his base.
The pundits are predictably divided, with prominent Democrats expressing shame at the caustic disunity on display to a world worried about the future of America's democracy.
Biden was mostly playing defense. When he said to the President, “Will you shut up!” it was, sadly, the best line of the night.