God bless Joe Biden. Imagine having to debate an irrational orange blob who was auditioning for a dementia unit. Biden often resorted to laughing because really, what else can you do in the face of such absurdity?
Pity debate moderator Chris Wallace. He struggled ineffectively to rein in President Donald Trump, who overwhelmed Wallace and the debate format from the beginning. Like the American public, Wallace was left with few answers to his questions and instead spent most of his time trying to handle the constant squabbling on the debate stage.
The first presidential debate was, thanks to Trump’s participation, anything but presidential. Even by the surreal standards of the Trump era, the debate was a painful tour of Trump’s psyche, as he bounced from football to Biden’s alma mater to the size of his crowds. In one sense, at least, Trump was successful: he made it all about him.
But Trump’s strategy all along has been to flood the field with (ahem) excrement. That’s what he did during the debate. Taken individually, Trump’s statements were nonsensical. Does anyone really believe, as Trump alleged, that Biden’s environment policy means that Biden wants to “take out the cows”?
But taken together, it was a logorrheic assault on Biden and reality. Trump believes that he can dominate anyone, and that was clearly his intent during the debate.
That’s a very risky bet for Trump. Trump was appealing to his base–but his base is not big enough to get re-elected. All you need to do is look at the polls. Because Trump can’t focus on anything for an extended period of time, he threw wild punches at Biden, including taking a shot at Biden’s son Hunter, but couldn’t sustain his attacks long enough for them to land.
By contrast, Biden did keep coming back to some core messages, primarily that the election is about the voters’ needs not about Trump’s. But Biden was also blunt about how he viewed the president, calling him a racist, a liar, and a clown – something that would have been unheard of in any previous presidential debate.
Notably, Trump never bothered to refute the racist label. Wallace asked Trump to condemn violent right-wing groups, and Biden goaded him to call out the Proud Boys, which is also anti-LGBTQ. Needless to say, Trump never condemned them.
To Wallace’s credit, he usually displayed his journalistic chops by asking hard questions of both candidates. But what Wallace really needed was a mute button for Trump’s microphone.
It’s almost impossible to assess the impact of a debate that was so off the rails. (No seriously. At one point, Trump accused Biden of trying to “take out the cows” as part of his climate policy.) Of course, Trump was crazy during the 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton, and he was elected.
This time out, however, there are few voters who are undecided. If you really believe in Trump, you will have been thrilled by his performance, right down to the allegations that Biden is a bovine murderer and that mailmen are selling ballots in West Virginia. If you believe that we need a president who exhibits decency and competency, Biden will have your support.
In the coming days, we’ll see if Biden’s lead in the polls widen as people digest Trump’s bizarre performance. Of course, the mainstream media will play a large role in people’s perceptions of the debate.
If there’s a lot of tongue-clucking and sad shaking of heads, the public may conclude that both sides were at fault. In fact, the media should be obligated to follow the president’s lead and remind them that the debate disaster, like so many other disasters, was all due to Trump.