Friday, October 23, 2020

Trump was Trump - and he lost the debate

The Scribers watched the Biden/Trump debate last night. The Trump performance was not as bad as in the previous debate - but that’s a pretty low bar for a particularly low man. He interrupted and frequently spoke over moderator Kristen Welker - who nevertheless managed to enforce a modicum of order. And then he turned to ad hominem attacks on Biden and his family. Here are some other responses.

Frank Bruni, writing at the NY Times, says That’s the Last We Need to Hear From Trump. He was nasty. He was dishonest. Next, please. (Thanks to Editor at Large Sherry for this one.)

It’s funny that everybody talks about Joe Biden as the old jalopy in this race, because on Thursday night in Nashville, it was Donald Trump who seemed to be running on fumes.

I don’t mean physically: He had his full repertoire of facial expressions (cocky, kooky, menacing, martyred) and the usual grating bray. I mean metaphorically. I mean politically.

He needed to show voters something different from what he had been showing them over the course of this wretched year, and he just didn’t have it in him.

He needed to part company with his foul temper, but that’s really the only weather left in him. His calmness during the first third or so of the debate gave way to the usual excitability during the rest of it. He was back to his characteristic grandiosity, his customary falsehoods, his mocking, his taunting.

“We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” he pouted. “He has this thing about living in a basement.”

Then, later, addressing Biden directly: “Don’t give me the stuff about how you’re this innocent baby.” What a perfect example of Trump’s habit of assigning his opponents caricatures that apply perfectly to him.

(That’s known as psychological projection,)

For most of the evening, Biden shook his head in disbelief, smiled the way you do at an incorrigible toddler, said less than he could or should have and counted down the minutes until it was all over. …

[Biden’s] message in general and his closing comments in particular were that we’re better than this and that we can move past it. He delivered them just sturdily enough that he probably will get the chance to lead us into our next chapter.

What [Trump] needed on Thursday night was a “Hail Mary,” not a “Biased Lesley,” which was his tack in the hours beforehand, as he pressed an obsessive, unwarranted attack on Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes,” one of the most popular and trusted news shows on American television. That pique and petulance followed him onto the stage in Nashville. While his advisers had urged him to smile more than he usually does, he sneered and scowled as much as he always does.

… what I’ve come to appreciate about Biden is that he’s not claiming greatness, not the way Trump does with just about every breath. He’s claiming steadiness. He’s claiming good intentions. If he wins, he may be the rare president who’s not convinced that he’s the smartest person in every room.

I nodded along with his final remarks, when he said, yet again: “What is on the ballot here is the character of this country: decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity.” He’s right about that. And he’s the right person because of that.

“You know who I am, you know who he is,” Biden said earlier. “Look at us closely.” I don’t need to turn my eyes toward Trump anymore. I’ve seen all that I can take, and I’m long past ready for a different view.

In her October 22, 2020 Letters from an American Heather Cox Richardson has another take on the debate.

The bottom line:“Instant polls gave the debate to Biden by the same margins showing in the polls in general. CNN had Biden at 53% and Trump at 39%; Data Progress had Biden at 52% and Trump at 41%; US Politics had Biden at 52% and Trump at 39%.”

This was not a good day for the president’s reelection campaign. He seemed unable to get over how angry he was at Lesley Stahl from CBS’s 60 Minutes after yesterday’s interview for a special program Sunday evening, and ultimately decided to post on Facebook the video the White House took during it. Trump’s team had said they were recording “for archival purposes only,” and posting the video meant Trump violated his agreement with the network.

Trump seemed to think showing the clip would illustrate how poorly the media treats him, but in fact it shows Stahl behaving professionally, asking solid questions and fact-checking the president, while Trump argues and denigrates her. If the clip was supposed to generate sympathy for him, it backfired.

The debate did him no favors either. Debate moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News was far more effective at keeping control over the debate than the previous two moderators were, especially at first, when the two men appeared to be afraid of her cutting their mics. Trump could not contain himself for long, though, and slipped pretty quickly back into talking over Welker and Biden both. Still, he was far more restrained than he was at the first debate.

More significantly, he made little effort to use his time to connect with voters. He focused simply on badgering Biden and rehearsing the talking points that have become almost set pieces in his performances. They are not entirely comprehensible to someone who is not reading or watching right-wing media, but they are quite shockingly full of lies. And while his language is familiar to his usual audience, it is unlikely to attract new voters, who will likely be confused at best and, possibly, bored after hearing the same phrases for so long.

While Biden, too, strayed from the truth on occasion, CNN fact checker Daniel Dale put it this way: “For a fact checker, you’re kind of sitting there w/Biden. Occasionally you’re like oh that’s wrong. With Trump you’re like the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode in the chocolate factory. You don’t know which one to pick up because there’s just so much.” He noted, “From a lying perspective, Trump is even worse tonight than in the first debate.”

Trump did not make much of a case for his reelection tonight. He seemed to have no plans for what he would like to accomplish in a second term, although he did say he hoped to create a new healthcare plan (he has said repeatedly he already has one). He mocked Biden for talking about the so-called “kitchen table issues” that are important to ordinary voters, and insisted that Biden should have done everything he talks about accomplishing in the future back when he was vice president under President Barack Obama. At one point, Trump talked about what he would do “when I become president.”

For his part, Biden largely ignored Trump’s wild answers and tried to outline his policies, which he described with more detail than clarity, but which were interesting nonetheless because they offered something new when compared with Trump’s rote performance, worn thin by familiarity. Biden had no major slips. Trump pounced on Biden’s declaration that the nation must transition away from oil, instantly responding, “Will you remember that Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio?” But Pennsylvania and Ohio produce just a tiny bit of crude oil—they are both primarily natural gas states—and Trump’s identification of Texas and Oklahoma was a self-own. He is worried about carrying Texas and Oklahoma?

Most telling was that Trump was unprepared for Welker’s final, excellent but softball question: if they were to be elected, what would they say on Inauguration Day to voters who did not support them. Trump claimed that rebuilding the economy “to make our country totally successful as it was prior to the plague coming over from China” would bring Americans together, and then pivoted to attacking Biden, warning that if he were elected, “you will have a depression the likes of which you’ve never seen.”

Biden, though, recognized that Welker had deliberately lobbed them the opportunity to make a final pitch to voters. He promised to represent all voters, not just those who voted for him, and promised to put “science over fiction” and “hope over fear.” “We’re going to choose to move forward because we have enormous opportunities, enormous opportunities to make things better,” he said. “We can grow this economy, we can deal with the systemic racism, and at the same time we can make sure that our economy is being run and moved and motivated by clean energy creating millions of new jobs. That’s the fact.”

On the ballot this year, he said, are “Decency, honor, respect, treating people with dignity, making sure that everyone has an even chance, and I’m going to make sure you get that.”

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