NPR’s Rachel Martin reflects on last night’s debate with Democratic strategist Karen Finney and Republican strategist Scott Jennings.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
OK. We will now turn to our team of political strategists for their take on what happened last night. We heard from Democratic political strategist Karen Finney and Republican strategist Scott Jennings yesterday before the debate. And they’re still here this morning. Hello to both of you.
KAREN FINNEY: Hello.
SCOTT JENNINGS: Hello.
MARTIN: So, Scott, I want to start with you. You said yesterday that you thought the mute feature, the ability to mute candidates at different intervals, might actually work in Trump’s favor. You called it a drug that would help him because it would allow him to make his economic case. Did it work? Did it happen?
JENNINGS: Yeah, it’s always fun to be right.
JENNINGS: And Donald Trump last night, you know, whether it was the mute button or his own self-control, ultimately he actually let Joe Biden do the talking. And I think it also gave Donald Trump a chance to think about what he wanted to say next, which then led them to choose some sort of policy debate, which is how Trump always needed to. prepare for this election. Now it is late. Many people have already voted or made their decision. But eventually, one night, we had a policy debate, and Donald Trump looked pretty good.
MARTIN: So, Karen, what do you think? Because some Republicans or supporters of President Trump would have said, you know, we just need to hear Joe Biden talk, that he’s basically going – if you give him a piece of rope long enough, that he’s going to hang himself. , he ‘I’ll do some kind of blunder. What did you think of the space moving between them and being able to let them both talk, did that work in Biden’s favor?
FINNEY: Well, I think it actually worked in their favor. I am ready to say it. And congratulations, Scott. I actually thought of you (laughs) when he was so disciplined. I thought, did Scott really talk to her? Because he’s really – you know, and it’s important. I mean, look, my other, obviously, most important critic of President Trump’s performance was that a lot of what he said was still wrong. But, you know, one of the things we know as a communicator is that the tone and style of what you say is important. And I certainly think the space between them allowed for more conversation. I certainly thought Vice President Biden had a great night as well, you know, he got to speak clearly on the background as well. I think a number of President Trump’s hits didn’t quite seem to land so well. And there were some pretty newsworthy moments, like the conversation about the kids who had been separated from their parents, that despite his behavior, I think it didn’t work out well for Trump and I think you did. know, again, gave Biden the space to comment on that instead of just, you know, the kind of behavior we saw in the first debate.
MARTIN: So I want to ask a question about a specific moment. NBC moderator Kristen Welker asked President Trump what he would say to Americans who didn’t like the way he spoke about race or who seemed to exacerbate racial divisions in this country. And that’s how he answered. Let’s play this tape.
(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No one has done more for the black community than Donald Trump. And if you look, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln – possible exception – but except Abraham Lincoln, nobody did what I did.
MARTIN: I mean, do Republicans believe that, Scott? This ignores the actions of several previous presidents, I mean, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, ending segregation.
JENNINGS: Yeah. I mean, I could do without the bravado and hyperbole about Abraham Lincoln. However, if you’re listening, this whole exchange, Donald Trump actually has a story to tell. When you talk about criminal justice reform and its support for historically black colleges and universities, pre-COVID economic numbers, it has a story to tell. And then he pivoted and said, what did you do while you were in power for the last eight years under Obama for your 47 year career? And in fact, I’m removing the hyperbole about Lincoln, which, by the way, has always been blatantly ridiculous. The story he could tell of what he had done – not too bad. So other than that, I was happy with the case he filed on this.
FINNEY: Yeah, I don’t – I’m willing to grant it to you, Scott, but we’re living – we’re in a situation where one in 1,000 African Americans has died from COVID. And so where we are, our current situation is incredibly dire for black America. And I think you can’t overlook either – I mean, you know, one of the problems with Donald Trump is that he’ll take credit for the things he’s done, but then he doesn’t want to. taking responsibility for the other side is what you haven’t done – you won’t denounce white nationalists, white supremacists. And what climate does that – I can say as a black person, the climate that this has created is incredibly dangerous. So I think there’s – you know, the point is, there’s more to the story. He certainly did an effective job telling part of the story, but then, you know, in that questioning, he didn’t want to and couldn’t take responsibility. What he did with the Central Park Five is significant and it was horrible. And so you can’t take one without the other.
MARTIN: In the moments that are left for us, I want to ask about the final argument each candidate made last night in response to a question from Kristen Welker about – you know, in your inaugural address, she said, what would you say to the Americans who did not vote for you? Scott, what did you think of the president’s response, then Karen’s response? Just briefly.
JENNINGS: I think it closed well. I mean, obviously, you know, the people who don’t vote for him, they’re unlikely to change their mind. I thought it had closed well. I mean, it’s – questions like that will never be his forte. But overall that answer, plus everything else, I thought he performed well and was a good capper.
FINNEY: Yeah, along with Vice President Biden, I thought, again, that he got right to the point of this race for him and I think so many people in the country really realized that this idea of the soul of the country, the idea of having a president who is everyone’s president and trying to heal, which really matters. And frankly, that’s what people are looking for at this point in the country. So it was a great performance and a great response.
MARTIN: Karen Finney, Democratic strategist, Scott Jennings on the Republican side, thank you both. We appreciate that.
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