Joe Biden brings the passion to his final debate
Joe Biden brings the passion to his final debate

A favorite, much-spoofed Joe Biden expres­sion is to say, “Now, here’s the deal.”

But the for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent used Thurs­day night’s debate with Don­ald Trump to close the deal, piv­ot­ing to address the Amer­i­can peo­ple and not the wretched, fab­ri­ca­tion-spout­ing noise machine with whom he shared the stage.

Trump was wing­ing it, mak­ing stuff up on the fly and return­ing to his great­est hits, which are many cas­es his nas­ti­est and most insid­i­ous lies.

The incum­bent doesn’t read his brief­ing mate­ri­als, and obvi­ous­ly did not prep for a debate that was his last oppor­tu­ni­ty to turn around an election.

The first break point came with talk of the coronavirus.

The nov­el coro­n­avirus (COVID-19) pan­dem­ic “will go away. And I say, we’re round­ing the turn. We’re round­ing the cor­ner. It’s going away,” said Trump.

He has recit­ed vari­a­tions of that state­ment thir­ty-eight times in recent months.

“Learn­ing to live with it! C’mon. We’re dying with it,” Biden retorted.

In fact, 1,100 Amer­i­cans died of SARS-CoV­‑2, the nov­el coro­n­avirus, the day before the debate, with the death toll now past 220,000.

Trump did not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to repeat his sev­en­ty-two inter­rup­tions of the first debate on stage in Nashville. Kris­ten Welk­er of NBC News did the best job of keep­ing big cats in their place since I watched famed lion tamer Clyde Beat­ty as a lit­tle kid at the cir­cus. Hav­ing a pro­duc­tion staff with a mute but­ton helped.

With Trump, as ever, every­thing was about him.

The man lacks empa­thy, which is a cen­tral Biden attribute. Asked about his minus­cule tax bill in 2016 and 2017, the incum­bent called $750 a “fil­ing fee.” Biden talked of pub­lish­ing his tax returns for the past twen­ty-two years.

The dis­cus­sion lat­er moved to Trump’s dra­con­ian immi­gra­tion and asy­lum poli­cies, with Welk­er bring­ing up the more than five hun­dred immi­grant kids who were sep­a­rat­ed from their par­ents at the bor­der, and whose par­ents can­not be found.

Trump threw up an eva­sive flur­ry about kids being brought north by “coy­otes.” Biden coun­tered that they were brought here by and tak­en from par­ents, even nurs­ing moth­ers. “Those kids are alone,” he said. “They have nowhere to go.”

Biden didn’t just counter Trump. He promised to at last deliv­er immi­gra­tion reform, offer­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants a path to legal sta­tus and giv­ing Dream­ers secu­ri­ty in a coun­try where they’ve lived most of their lives.

Biden looked noth­ing like the “Sleepy Joe” moniker Trump has often used. Nor did he show any signs of run­ning out the clock. He took the fight to Trump. The for­mer veep’s bold­est moment came when accus­ing the incum­bent of racism.

At first, debate watch­ers heard the usu­al Trump fak­ery. He claimed to have done more for African Amer­i­cans than any pres­i­dent since Abra­ham Lin­coln, fol­low­ing with anoth­er piece of self-flat­tery: “I am the least racist per­son in this room.”

Abra­ham Lin­coln here is one of the most racist pres­i­dents we’ve had in mod­ern his­to­ry,” Biden shot back. “This guy has a dog whis­tle about as big as a foghorn.”

The can­di­dates’ clos­ing remarks drove home themes of the debate.

Welk­er asked a sim­ple ques­tion of the can­di­dates: “In your inau­gur­al address, on Jan­u­ary 20th, 2021, what would you say to Amer­i­cans who did not vote for you?”

Trump has voiced no sec­ond term agenda.

He respond­ed to Welk­er by once more defend­ing his response to the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic. And, once more, he attacked Biden for want­i­ng to invest in America.

“If he gets in, you will have a depres­sion the likes of which you have nev­er seen. Your 401(k) will go to hell and it will be a very, very sad day for the country.”

Biden made a sim­ple point, one not often heard in the past four years.

“I don’t see red states or blue states, I see a Unit­ed States.”

At oth­er points dur­ing the debate, Trump cranked up his mean­ness, attack­ing Hunter Biden and imply­ing Joe Biden is soft on Chi­na. Biden coun­tered with Trump’s secret Chi­na bank account, revealed Tues­day in the New York Times.

When Trump returned to Hunter’s busi­ness deal­ings, Biden turned to the cam­era and said, “It’s not about his fam­i­ly or my fam­i­ly. It’s about your family.”

Biden asked a ques­tion Trump has nev­er answered: Has he raised with Vladimir Putin the boun­ty that Rus­sia has put on Amer­i­can mil­i­tary per­son­nel in Iraq?

The inter­con­nect­ed sub­jects of cli­mate action and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion was raised, final­ly, as part of a pre­planned seg­ment devised by Welker.

Biden talked about tran­si­tion­ing away from a fos­sil fuel to a clean ener­gy econ­o­my. Trump trashed wind tur­bines by hyp­ing the prob­lem of bird strike.

And he returned to his accu­sa­tion that Biden oppos­es frack­ing. Once again, how­ev­er, Biden talked to the coun­try and offered a coher­ent goal. Trump deliv­ered his least con­vinc­ing line of the night: “I do love the environment.”

In sum, Trump had his last best chance to turn the cam­paign around. In the words of FiveThir­tyEight’s Nate Sil­ver: “He doesn’t appear to have done it.”

The CNN instant who-won poll came out moments after his tweet.

Its ver­dict? Biden fifty-three per­cent, Trump thir­ty-nine per­cent. Biden went into the debate a fron­trun­ner. He came out of the debate a frontrunner.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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