When faced with questions about his actual record and policy, Trump threw up word salads, switched topics, made scurrilous accusations and convinced any rational viewer he is in over his head. He mostly interrupted, repeatedly and falsely accusing Biden of harboring positions that his more progressive opponents in the Democratic primaries held. Trump was a walking Twitter feed — no facts, all bluster and all insults. Unfortunately, moderator Chris Wallace was never able to control Trump, so the debate devolved into constant interruption.
Trump wound up arguing with Wallace, who correctly pointed out that Trump does not have a comprehensive health-care plan. Trump insisted he was lowering drug prices (he hasn’t) without addressing his lack of a replacement for Obamacare. Biden explained that he is not in sync with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Medicare-for-all, as Trump claimed. As Trump tried to interrupt again and again, Biden asked derisively, "Do you have any idea what this clown is doing?” At another point, Biden quietly said, “Will you shut up, man?” He made the point that Trump has never had a health-care plan.
Bizarrely, Republican operatives and conservative pundits prior to the debate seemed bent on lowering the bar for Biden, casting him as senile and feeble. Instead, Biden scored a TKO on Trump’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. He methodically walked through the horrendous statistics of death and illness from the disease. “It is what it is because you are who you are,” Biden said calmly. He reminded us that Trump told The Post’s Bob Woodward that the novel coronavirus was deadly just as he was telling the American people it was no worse than the flu. He said Trump thought Americans would panic, but that Trump was the one to panic. Trump wound up in another argument with Wallace over his own advisers who dispute Trump’s rosy timeline.
At times, Trump just threw out insults to rattle Biden. (“Don’t ever use the word ‘smart’ with me,” the president said.) He insulted Biden for wearing masks too often. He defended his rallies, dismissing concerns about covid-19. He bragged about the size of his crowds, in effect admitting that he cared more about turnout at his events than about preventing the spread of the virus.
On the economy, Trump boasted of his “best-ever” economy, but Biden took the side of the little guy, pointing out that the economy may be bouncing back for the rich but not for ordinary workers. Biden then threw Trump’s tax avoidance back in his face, after which Trump refused to confirm whether he paid $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017, as the New York Times recently reported. Trump then lied that he had relatively little debt (he reportedly owes $421 million) and insisted he paid “millions” in taxes. Biden heckled him, taunting him to release his tax returns.
Biden pointed to studies showing his own plan would create more jobs and grow faster under his proposals than under Trump’s. In response to Trump’s taunts, Biden said bluntly, “You are the worst president America has ever had.” Biden said they handed Trump a booming economy but Trump “blew it” and didn’t save manufacturing.
When Trump went after Biden’s son Hunter, Biden tried to respond only to be perpetually interrupted. Wallace tried to tell Trump to be quiet and chided him for interrupting. Still, Trump continued to speak over Biden. Wallace hollered at Trump, telling him no, he could not carry on about Biden’s child.
On the issue of race, Biden went through the list of Trump’s race-baiting and sympathizing with white supremacists. He sneered at Trump’s notion that he has been better for African Americans than any other president. Trump responded by dredging up the 1994 crime bill, listing his police endorsements and making wild accusations that Biden will not say the phrase “law and order.” Biden calmly spoke about convening a conference on policing to bring all sides in, reiterating that violence is never appropriate. While Trump insisted he ended racial sensitivity training for federal workers because it was trying to make people “hate America,” Biden stressed there is racism and we need to address attitudes. Biden made a quiet but impassioned plea for unity, bashing Trump’s dog whistles aimed at the suburbs, making clear they are not lily-white as in the 1950s and defending community policing. Trump could only respond with insults and non sequiturs.
Biden was most convincing when he accused Trump of “pouring gasoline on the fire.” Wallace challenged Trump to condemn white militias and white supremacists, which Trump hedged and dodged. In fact, he seemed to cheer on a violent, white-supremacist group. (“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by! But I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left.”) It was possibly the worst moment of the debate.
Near the end, Biden accused Trump of being “Putin’s puppy” and criticized him for not confronting the Russian leader on placing bounties on U.S. troops. As Biden raised the issue of Trump’s insults to the military and his son Beau, Trump once more began ranting about Hunter Biden.
On climate change, Trump stuck to his line about blaming fires on poor forest management. He at one point conceded humans cause climate change but then reverted to his rant about forests. It’s this sort of mind-numbing stupidity that turns off the overwhelming majority of voters. Trump refused to give a coherent answer to explain his efforts to roll back gas mileage requirements and repeal Obama-era regulations. Biden explained his own plan for renewable energy and green construction (A plan! An actual policy!), but then Trump started spewing right-wing talking points about the Green New Deal. Biden calmly responded that his plan is not the Green New Deal.
Finally, on election integrity, Biden debunked specious claims about absentee and early voting, flat-out accusing Trump of trying to discredit the election. He dismissed Trump’s threats and antics, telling voters they have the power to vote Trump out. Trump then lashed out with unhinged accusations about President Barack Obama spying on his transition team, revealing just how nuts he is. And, proving Biden’s point, he tried to claim widespread mail-in ballots will amount to fraud. “This is going to be fraud like you’ve never seen,” he said, evidencing the same contempt for voting that Biden had just accused him of harboring. Trump even went so far as to say he might have to ask the Supreme Court, with his new justice, to decide the election.
Chris Wallace, who vowed to make himself “invisible," actually got walked over, leading to a chaotic debate that was at times impossible to follow. He should have halted the debate or cut Trump’s microphone until he agreed to abide by the rules. Trump’s strategy was to be so obnoxious and aggressive that he could avoid answering questions and defending his record.
Trump’s job was to win over voters. It’s hard to believe anyone not already part of his cult would be persuaded to support a rude, blustering know-nothing. Biden remained calm and collected, showing off his knowledge and his normalcy. In this election, that puts him head and shoulders above Trump.
WINNER: Joe Biden
LOSERS: President Trump and Chris Wallace