Out in California, the fires were hotter than the presidential debate. People were evacuating their homes in Northern California’s wine country.
And what about the friends and family of the more than 200,000 Americans who have died of Covid? Or the 28,000 Disney workers who joined the nearly 30 million unemployed in this county?
What kind of presidential debate did they deserve?
It’s not what any of us got on Tuesday.
You’re supposed to leave a debate feeling some admiration for a candidate, to the point you want to vote for that candidate, not punch him in the nose.
But more people were surely thinking the latter on Tuesday night–including Trump supporters wishing he would shut up.
President Trump just wouldn’t play fair by the agreed rules of the debate.
Call it “debatus interruptus.” Trump repeatedly badgered, talked over, and heckled former Vice President Joe Biden at every contentious turn.
By comparison, Biden appeared to be the calmer, saner, more presidential candidate to emerge from the first debate, a chaotic embarrassment of a presidential debate.
And it was mostly because Trump couldn’t help himself. His behavior was like the tantrum of a tyrant or a three-year-old.
Maybe he was just trying to fluster the man he’s repeatedly called “Sleepy Joe.” Biden was anything but. Biden stood tall and smiled when Trump went on yet another rant. Out of frustration, Biden, when he was interrupted, at one point told Trump, “Can you just shush for a minute?”
Biden was mostly smiling, trying to show how a leader of the free world behaves. But occasionally he did attack Trump, perhaps out of self-defense, referring to the president as a “clown,” a “racist,” or “the worst president ever.”
The president deserved it with his disgraceful performance.
Where was the moderator Fox’s Chris Wallace? Not in control. I’ve moderated a statewide gubernatorial debate, some senate races, and a few local ones in my time. A moderator has to let the action happen, but it was nearly an hour in when Wallace finally stepped up, leading to this exchange with Trump:
Wallace: “The country would be better served if if we allow both people to speak with fewer interruptions, I’m appealing to you sir to do that.”
Trump: “And him too.” [Referring to Biden.]
Wallace: Well, frankly you’ve been doing more.
Trump: But he does plenty.
Wallace: But less than you have.
Wallace didn’t have control over the tone of the debate. But he did decide the questions, and I thought Asian Americans would be interested in the section on race relations.
We weren’t mentioned by name, and there was no mention of immigration. For example, a late-breaking story before the debate said that ICE raids would be starting in sanctuary cities as early as this week around the nation. Too late to come up in this debate.
So the only real substantive takeaway for us and all people of color in the “race section” came when Wallace asked Trump: “Are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland?”
Trump couldn’t do it.
He hemmed and hawed. But when given a direct opportunity, he could not condemn white supremacy.
In fact, Trump responded in a way that empowered a racist group, as he gave the “Proud Boys” a shout out. ”Stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left, because this is not a right wing, this is a left wing problem. ”
When Trump had his chance to take a stand on racial justice, he just couldn’t do it.
Even in the most anticipated subject areas, like Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus, Trump kept harping on his Chinese travel ban, which was full of loopholes and did not stop travel from China.
As for the more than 200,000 deaths of Americans? Trump had no real answer and showed no empathy
The New York Times story on Trump’s decades of tax avoidance came up, and Trump answered it like it was federal taxes. He avoided it. Then again, Biden couldn’t capitalize on it.
At every turn, Biden attempted to bring the focus back to real people and families watching at home. Overall, that was his strategy on most of the issues from the economy to affordable health care. But frankly, the president’s disruptions tended to overshadow the substance and kept the debate from being coherent at all.
When the president needed to heat up the rhetoric, he’d turn to the old Burisma/Hunter Biden accusations that were discredited during the impeachment hearing. It only got Biden fired up to speak on defense of his family.
By the end, Wallace did show a little more control but it was too late. It was easy to expose Trump, a climate denier, on climate change. Just let him talk and lie in real time.
And on voter fraud, the difference was clear. Wallace asked them both if they would pledge to urge supporters not to engage in civil unrest, and “not to declare victory until the election has been independently certified.”
Biden told people to vote, and that he’d abide by a certified count. But Trump offered no such pledge and said if he saw “tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated,” he couldn’t go along with that. “These people aren’t equipped to handle [the election],” Trump said. “And they cheat.”
It means a final vote could take months as Trump made it clear he’s prepared to fight any result he doesn’t like.
Going into the debate, Biden was anywhere from 7 to 10 percentage points up in many key national polls, an advantage that would make the former vice president an electoral college lock.
After this first debate, if the margins in polls rise to advantage Biden, it would be a troubling sign for Trump and for us.
Trump’s already hinted at legal challenges to a “rigged” election. After reviewing his debate performance, will he now move aggressively towards more autocratic ways to preserve his hold on the presidency? When Trump doesn’t commit to a peaceful transfer of power, what else are we to think—that he was just kidding?
From what I saw on Tuesday night, I’d say Biden maintains or adds to his lead while Trump remains on the ropes. And there’s more than enough slack for the president to hang himself in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
The side-by-side comparison was all too clear. There’s no debate. And maybe no need for any more. The bullying Trump showed he’s unfit to lead. A second term? Unthinkable.