Presidential debate didn’t help Trump catch Biden – and scared America


In the amid a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic distress and racial unrest, American voters deserved a serious exploration of the nation’s problems and the range of solutions. Instead, they got a chaotic insult fest it was like one of those awful 90 minute movies that leave audiences dumber than when they walked into the theater.

Going into Tuesday night’s matchup in Cleveland, it was clear what each presidential candidate had to accomplish.

For Democrat Joe Biden, the task was to present himself as an acceptable alternative to anyone turned off by President Donald Trump. Biden has spent his long career being just that: acceptable, nothing fancy, but not too hot, not too cold; neither too hard nor too soft; neither too liberal nor too conservative. At 77, he still had to prove that he was neither too old nor too concerned with the extreme left.

Undecided voters

For Trump, the goal was a bit more complex and very contrary to his nature. He had the opportunity not only to energize his base and congratulate himself, but also to reach out to the relatively few undecided voters and set an agenda for the second term. He was especially in need of wooing the women who, according to the polls, had abandoned him en masse since he took office.

Biden wasn’t great. He stumbled in sentences that sometimes stopped and then resumed in an adjacent alley. He dodged the question of whether he would try to wrap the Supreme Court in retaliation for Republicans who pushed through a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. His description of his own environmental plan was barely coherent. He got drawn into name-calling, calling the president a “clown” at one point. In a normal debate, he might have been considered the loser.

On Tuesday night, however, Biden was the relative adult in the room who occasionally made strong points — about how health insurance for millions hangs in the balance and how the economy is being held back. by the administration’s inability to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

Teen bully in a cafeteria

As for Trump, he was nothing short of a horror show. Apparently he didn’t get the memo that he was trying to expand his appeal. For months, he saw his mission as to topple his core supporters and take down his Democratic opponent, attacking Biden as corrupt, a puppet of the far left, and mentally incompetent.

Trump came to Cleveland thinking his job was to talk about Biden whenever the former vice president spoke. The effect was like a bullying teenager in a canteen harassing people just to draw attention to himself. His outbursts were peppered with absurd statistics and outright lies.

On matters of substance, insofar as there were matters of substance, Trump stood out mostly for what he didn’t say rather than what he said. Appallingly, the Commander-in-Chief again refused to clearly condemn white supremacists, or to say he would necessarily concede if the election were called against him.

Biden has long sought to portray the election as a referendum on Trump’s first term. To that end, after the debate, his handlers touted his line that under Trump “we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent.” We suspect that another line from Biden — “You’re gonna shut up, man!” — will prove more enduring.

It wasn’t the presidential debate Trump needed to catch up with leading Biden in the polls. More importantly, it was not the kind of debate that reassures America about the fate of its troubled democracy.

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