October 23, 2020
Was Trump’s Debate Win Enough for Election Victory?
Given the overheated politics of the moment, last night was a surprisingly gentlemanly affair. President Trump was calm and in command during the whole debate. Joe Biden spent plenty of time attacking Trump’s record, but it didn’t feel overly personal. While nothing Biden said was inspiring or new, he also didn’t have any massive blunders.
Overall, the president was more compelling on matters of major policy – particularly his refutation of the “Trump is responsible for 200,000 COVID deaths” line – and it was enough for him to come out ahead of his opponent in the final analysis.
Trump won the debate… but as the political cliché goes, he didn’t score a knock-out blow.
The lack of fireworks around the Hunter Biden scandal was probably the biggest surprise. This has dominated the news ever since the New York Post first published the story last week, which was based on the contents of a laptop that belonged to the former Vice President’s wayward son – the device was full of illicit photos and corrupt-sounding communications.
The laptop files appear to support the allegation that Hunter Biden made millions of dollars selling access on the global market to his then Vice President dad, including to Chinese business interests. There are even e-mails that support the possibility that Joe Biden may have personally benefited from some of these unsavory arrangements via kickbacks. (My colleague Trish Regan covered this story at length in yesterday’s American Consequences Daily.)
Conservative media has been at Defcon 1 over all this for days… But during the debate, it never built to the expected showdown. Trump threw some barbs at Biden about how he has somehow made a lot of money despite a life of public service, and Biden responded semi-coherently with a non sequitur about taxes. Folks watching at home who thought this would be the chance for the denouement of the Biden campaign were disappointed.
Health care was a minor flashpoint. Biden promised to create a public option, and repeated the great lie of the Obama administration that nobody lost their health care plans as a result of Obamacare. Trump said he wanted to create an even better plan than Obamacare, though he was thin on specifics. No viewer minds were likely changed on this issue, as the exchange felt perfunctory.
On immigration, Biden made it clear he wanted to “create a path to citizenship” for illegal immigrants, which conservatives and a large percentage of moderates will recognize is just amnesty by another name. Biden tried to trash Trump on the “kids in cages” storyline that resulted from the surge of asylum seekers at the border… but Trump managed to effectively turn it around by asking Biden, “Who built the cages?” (answer: the Obama administration).
Stylistically, Trump was much more appealing on the stage tonight than his first foray against Biden. His MAGA base may have been big fans of his no holds-barred approach in the earlier debate, but that wasn’t likely to win over moderates and undecideds. Biden, for his part, tried to connect to the audience in his most practiced folksy tone and sounded like the four-decade-long machine politician he is.
Blue-collar Joe from Scranton even turned around a question into an opportunity to stare into the camera and address America’s families, but it felt disingenuous. Trump mocked Biden’s studied sanctimony, for one of the more worthwhile moments of a mostly unmemorable battle.
The presidency was neither won nor lost at this debate…
Partisans on both sides will claim their candidate was the victor on stage. Both sides also quietly recognize that none of that matters… and the debate will mostly be forgotten in a day.
All that really matters is, when the votes are counted on November 3, will Joe Biden or Donald Trump be celebrating and preparing for an inauguration? The final presidential debate will likely be a footnote to that moment whenever the history of this election is written.
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Executive Editor, American Consequences
with the Editorial Staff
October 23, 2020