On September 29th, at 8 pm, the President of the United States Donald Trump, and the Democratic nominee Joe Biden took to the debate stage, for the first of three scheduled Presidential debates.
Due to COVID-19 induced restrictions, the candidates chose to forego the customary hand shake, though whether the pair of Trump and Biden would have shook hands in lieu of COVID is doubtful.
From the outset, the goals for both were obvious. Donald Trump was the one fighting an uphill battle, and Joe Biden had it all to lose. In the weeks and months leading upto the debate, President Trump has been trailing Biden by a substantial margin (which has stayed remarkably consistent throughout). The main attack that Trump has levied on Biden has been one of old age, and diminished mental capacity. His goal in the debate was to demonstrate Biden’s falling acuity to the American people.
Joe Biden, on the other hand (who actually is experiencing some kind of mental decline, though not one as extreme as the Trump campaign would have you believe) has been avoiding the press as much as he can, seeking to duck tough questions. Out of the last 13 days on the campaign trail, he has “called a lid”, on 10, meaning he has not interacted with any media. Kamala Harris, the vice-presidential nominee, has done no press junkets, since being selected for the Vice-Presidency. Whenever Joe Biden has given a campaign speech, he has declined to take questions afterward.
While seemingly foolish, this is quite smart, as it gives more oxygen to the verbal fire hazard that is Donald Trump, and allows his often wild and untrue statements to affect the public sentiment more than any slip-ups by the gaffe-prone Biden ( he once referred to Barack Obama as ‘the first articulate African-American’) would.
With the American media obviously tilting toward the left, this stratagem has worked for Biden so far. The debates are Donald Trump’s chance to exploit Biden’s weaknesses, and expose him to the questions the press will not ask of him.
But by branding Biden ‘Sleepy Joe’, and claiming baselessly that Joe Biden used performance enhancing drugs for his debate with Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primaries, Donald Trump has set expectations for Joe Biden extremely low. This has been Mr. Trump’s crucial tactical failing.
When you constantly contend that your opponent is senile, demented, and “not with it”, you lock yourself into a situation; one where all your opponent must do to be declared the winner is not plainly showcase mental incompetence.
This failed political tactic is what made the debate as chaotic and messy as it was. Donald Trump was on a mission; to upset Joe Biden, and throw him off his game. Joe Biden’s mission; to not let Trump succeed.
In his quest to render Biden incoherent, Trump threw the kitchen sink at him. He brought up Biden’s college grades, and said that there was “nothing smart about” Joe Biden. He brought up Hunter Biden’s (Joe’s son), drug problems. He alleged a nefarious collusion between Hunter Biden, and Russian government officials.
Not one to do things by half measures, Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden over 70 times, over the course of the debate.
Unfortunately for the President, it did not work. Joe Biden made it through without breaking down. He remained cogent and coherent throughout. Though he did occasionally go off the beaten path, if only to tell Donald Trump to “shut up, man”, and to call him a “clown”.
Donald Trump has, in effect, made sure that this debate will have no bearing on the election. At least he would have, had he not chosen to shoot himself in the foot, and then in the other foot as well for good measure.
When called upon by the moderator of the debate, to denounce the ‘Proud Boys’ (an extremist group with ties to white supremacy, according to the FBI), he demurred, and said that they should “stand back, and stand by”.
Joe Biden was not without fault either; when confronted with his party’s radical left flank’s newfound willingness to fundamentally alter the Supreme Court in order to benefit themselves, he choose to tiptoe around the question, instead of answer directly, to avoid angering the radicals in his base.
Biden also argued that Trump was beholden to China and Xi Jinping, and that it was his unwillingness to challenge Xi on the botchery of the early COVID-19 response, along with Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic in February, that led to the U.S’s dire situation with the virus.
Biden conveniently forgot his late January remarks labeling a Chinese travel ban ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’, and comments by Democratic Party leaders, such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who was calling for people to celebrate in large public gatherings, as late as February 26th.
However, for the time being, the Biden strategy has prevailed, once again.
Donald Trump’s unhinged remarks are what will carry the media, and consequently public attention, for the next few days. Biden’s obvious ceding of territory to the radicals will be largely ignored, to be picked up on and reported only by right wing media outlets, which are few and far between.
It appears Biden has won this round, but whether or not he can repeat this performance in the second and third debate remains to be seen.