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Friday, October 23rd, 2020

Some takeaways from the final presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump

The morn­ing after the final pres­i­den­tial debate between Don­ald Trump and Joe Biden, everyone’s news feed was full of analy­sis, opin­ion and spec­u­la­tion, all angling towards an answer to the same ques­tion: Who won?

In the broad scheme of things, it doesn’t mat­ter who won the debate.

With less than two weeks before Elec­tion Day (and with tens of mil­lions of votes already cast) Joe Biden is polling ahead of Trump nation­al­ly by any­where between 7 and 10 points, and leads in prac­ti­cal­ly every swing state.

For the record, I think that both can­di­dates “won” the debate, but only because they were try­ing to achieve such dis­parate aims. Trump won the debate, because he was able to come across as a brash, macho bul­ly, while stay­ing com­fort­ably marooned from real­i­ty by a cocoon of Fox con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – but he avoid­ed the descent into pure psy­chopa­thy that we wit­nessed in the last debate.

Biden, on the oth­er hand, won because he was able to com­mu­ni­cate a num­ber of key Demo­c­ra­t­ic poli­cies (which are far more pop­u­lar than those of the Repub­li­cans) to the vot­ers, while avoid­ing any kind of gaffe or ver­bal slip-up.

Here are a few take­aways from the debate:

Trump has no plan for a sec­ond term

Trump spent a lot of time talk­ing, but almost nev­er about what he plans to do in the next four years. He spent more time ram­bling about Biden’s son Hunter than he spent on any pol­i­cy or idea from his own campaign.

When asked about racial jus­tice, his response was com­plete­ly incoherent.

At the time, all I came away with was the impres­sion that lots of peo­ple go into Trump’s office. The morn­ing after the debate, I went back and read the debate tran­script, and came away none the wis­er. It doesn’t make for an inspir­ing cam­paign slo­gan: “Vote for Don­ald Trump – he has peo­ple in his office!”

Maybe the most clear exam­ple of this was when the mod­er­a­tor Kris­ten Welk­er (who per­formed her task admirably) asked both can­di­dates what they would say on Inau­gu­ra­tion Day, 2021, to Amer­i­cans who didn’t sup­port them.

While Biden bor­rowed his old boss Obama’s phi­los­o­phy of “I rep­re­sent all of you whether you vot­ed for me or against me,” Trump appeared to mis­un­der­stand the ques­tion, argu­ing that a Biden Admin­is­tra­tion would lead to a depression.

It’s almost as if he can see the writ­ing on the wall to such an extent that he can no longer even imag­ine what his own vic­to­ry would look like.

Which is an encour­ag­ing thought.

The Democ­rats could have picked a bet­ter debater

The mea­sure of Biden’s debate suc­cess in most of the mass media was drawn from the fact that Trump failed to pres­sure Biden into mak­ing the kind of “gaffe” that plagued his debate per­for­mances dur­ing the primary.

But the fact that that is con­sid­ered a mea­sure of suc­cess just seems so emp­ty. Through­out the debate, I couldn’t help but wish it were one of Biden’s pri­ma­ry oppo­nents on the stage instead of him.

Instead of respond­ing to the President’s luna­cy with wry chuck­les and the occa­sion­al “c’mon,” imag­ine what Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Kamala Har­ris or Bernie Sanders would have done to Trump – they would still be scrap­ing him off his podium!

Biden called out Trump’s racism, but not his sexism

Many ana­lysts argue that a key com­po­nent to Joe Biden’s elec­toral coali­tion is a cohort of white, sub­ur­ban women who vot­ed for Trump in 2016, but have been unable to stom­ach him in pow­er. Biden knows he has to win over this group to get elect­ed. And yet, some­how, almost unbe­liev­ably, there was not a sin­gle men­tion of sex­ism by either Biden or the mod­er­a­tor in the entire debate (although Biden did make a com­mend­able moral stand for minori­ties and immi­grants). Why?

Biden’s rea­son for being cau­tious around the issue is per­haps under­stand­able – in May, a for­mer staffer named Tara Reade accused Biden of a decades-old sex­u­al assault. Although there was lit­tle evi­dence for Reade’s claims, the right-wing con­spir­a­cy machine took it and ran with it. If Biden had brought up Trump’s ram­pant sex­ism, he would sure­ly have been greet­ed by a tor­rent of non­sen­si­cal con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries – but that’s what hap­pened dur­ing the debate anyway!

Trump has a decades-long record of being a tru­ly appalling human being, and Biden missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty to remind the Amer­i­can peo­ple of the Access Hol­ly­wood tape, Trump’s mar­i­tal abuse, his use of sex­u­al assault vic­tims as polit­i­cal props dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, the dozens of sex­u­al assault alle­ga­tions against him, and the fact that he is using tax­pay­er dol­lars to intim­i­date these accusers.

Don’t wor­ry folks, your Pres­i­dent is still nuts!

The main take­away for much of the mass media was that the debate rep­re­sent­ed some kind of “return to nor­mal­i­ty,” with the New York Times’ Dai­ly pod­cast going so far as to title today’s episode “Sud­den Civil­i­ty.” I could almost hear Van Jones pop­ping up on CNN to tell view­ers that, three years and 276 days into his pres­i­den­cy, “he became pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States in that moment.”

Don’t be fooled. Trump may have inter­rupt­ed less com­pared to the last debate (and remem­ber, his mic was mut­ed part of the time) but he was still brim­ming with lies, con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, and down­right crazy ideas through­out the debate.

He once again claimed that COVID-19 is “going away”; he con­stant­ly returned to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about Joe Biden’s fam­i­ly that are laugh­ably full of holes; he rant­ed about “the lap­top from hell”; he sug­gest­ed that his record with the African-Amer­i­­can com­mu­ni­ty matched or pos­si­bly even exceed­ed Abra­ham Lincoln’s; he said he was the least racist per­son in the room three times and then said he couldn’t see the audi­ence because of the light­ing; and he claimed that wind pow­er “kills all the birds!” While those kind of lines may draw laughs rather than hor­ri­fied stares, nei­ther is fit­ting for a man with his fin­ger on the nuclear button.

The debate once again dis­played the two options fac­ing voters.

Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Joe Biden is cer­tain­ly not per­fect — no one is per­fect — but any­one who thinks the alter­na­tive is bet­ter is fool­ing themselves.

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