If you spent your evening doing anything other than watching the presidential debate, you’re the WINNER! Last night’s debate was the latest in a series of new lows for our country and the presidency. Never in the history of televised presidential debates has an incumbent president behaved in such a profoundly petulant, entitled, graceless and un-presidential manner.
As journalist Dana Bash noted on CNN immediately afterwards, the debate was a “shitshow.”
Bash’s colleague Jake Tapper went further: “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck. That was the worst debate I have ever seen, in fact it wasn’t even a debate. It was a disgrace.”
From the moment the debate started, a fidgety and sweaty Trump didn’t want to stop spewing. His answers often went over the time limit and he refused to stop. He constantly interrupted and talked over Joe Biden, eventually leading Biden to say, “Will you shut up, man?” As expected, Trump was a fountain of right-wing lies and talking points, but his audience seemed to be Joe Biden. Trump was mostly eyeballing Biden and talking directly to him, while Biden seemed instead to be speaking to America. Just on body language alone, Biden was the more calm, composed and presidential by far.
But the content of Trump’s blather was also deplorable. While Generous Joe talked about healing our nation, Trump did his best to attack Biden’s son Hunter, and when Biden mentioned his son Beau, a military veteran who died of brain cancer, Trump passed up an opportunity to say a kind word (he’s incapable) and instead continued to be rude and insulting. Trump went on a tirade about how fraudulent and rigged mail-in voting would be, and how we’ll have to wait for weeks and months to find out the winner (false). He also dodged a question about climate change, yammering about bad forest management and how he wants the cleanest air possible (suggesting, not for the first time, that climate change is somehow about making the air clean). He also tried to tie the violence and turbulence of his presidency to Biden and Democrats, as if the bad things that happen on his watch are always someone else’s fault.
The most appalling comment from Trump occurred when moderator Chris Wallace asked if Trump would flat-out condemn white supremacy. Flustered, Trump tried to get Wallace to clarify exactly what he meant by white supremacy, but before Wallace could respond, Biden mentioned Proud Boys, and Trump said, “Proud Boys? Stand back and stand by, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem, this is a left-wing problem.” Not only did Trump fail to denounce white supremacy, but he told a right-wing hate group (often associated with Nazis, properly described as domestic terrorists) to “stand by.” The condemnation on cable news was swift and excoriating. Most of the comments fell into these buckets. “I can’t believe a president of the United States just refused to reject white supremacy.” “This should be the end of his presidency.” “The president is a white supremacist.”
Well-known conservative pollster Frank Luntz conducted a focus group during the debate and afterwards the participants wrote down words that described each candidate. For Trump they wrote, “arrogant,” “crackhead,” and “un-American.” For Biden they wrote, “better than expected,” “more professional,” “restraint and compassion,” “predictable,” “coherent,” and “leader.”
Biden is not a charismatic cult leader, but he’s a steady, capable, thoughtful, earnest, compassionate man who might just be the perfect candidate for the moment. It’s easy to see that he sincerely wants to bring our citizens together and help our nation to heal. And his patience and dignity under fire last night testified to his character in a way that Trump could not overshadow.
As a practical matter, Trump underscored the things that we activists will need to prepare for as we near the election. Trump is clearly going to continue to poison the voting process and lie about mail-in ballot security. His aim here is two-fold. He wants to demoralize Democrats and create a feeling of helplessness that keeps them from voting. And he wants to create a pretext for his likely loss that will allow him to challenge the outcome in myriad dirty ways. We have to push back on both counts. Mail-in voting is safe and secure. The votes will be counted and we will get the results in due time.
Trump also confirmed that he wants his cult to go to the polls and watch for fraud. His army of poll watchers will undoubtedly try to make trouble, as the Trump cult did in Virginia recently during early voting, trying to block people from getting inside the polling place. Will his “army” cause problems? Will the Proud Boys try to intimidate anyone? I’m sure Trump will want them to. All he has left are intimidation and fear. We have to denounce his transparent ploy to intimidate American voters.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”