Nothing that occurred during Thursday night’s debate increases the chances we will have to endure four more years of the unhinged, know-nothing narcissistic president. Voters who made it through the 90-minute event saw a sharper, more fact-filled Biden than they have seen in previous performances. Meanwhile, the meandering, mean-spirited president was forced to resort to a flood of lies.
First, Trump appeared subdued at the onset. Deprived of the opportunity to interrupt by the mute button, he rambled and repeated self-congratulations during his time allotments. He insisted he could raise as much money as Biden has (claiming incorrectly that Biden’s had received the bulk of his money from Wall Street), but chose not to. Trump is plainly sensitive that he was clobbered in the money race. He has never learned what matters to voters. When Biden argued that we should talk about real issues affecting American families, Trump mocked him. Rarely has a politician showed such contempt for voters. Never has a president bragged that a dictator liked him more than his predecessor. Trump’s reticence was short-lived as he embarked on long-winded and often incoherent riffs filled with ludicrous accusations.
Second, Trump still has not come up with a realistic plan to fight covid-19. He has yet to develop any sense of compassion, and he remains unable to take responsibility for the crisis. “I take full responsibility," he said during the debate, before adding: “It’s not my fault that [the virus] came here.” Most galling, he insisted we are “learning to live with” the pandemic. Biden pounced to reiterate that more than 220,000 Americans have died from the disease. Once more, Trump was illogical and nonsensical: “We have the best testing in the world by far — that’s why we have so many cases!"
Third, Trump was so intent on spinning strange and convoluted conspiracy theories that it is doubtful anyone outside the loony-tunes world of right-wing media understood what he was talking about. (At one point, Trump said something about Biden selling pillows and sheets.) All Biden had to do was smile and suppress a laugh. He also effectively brought up Trump’s refusal to release his taxes, taunting him to make them public.
Fourth, Biden was strongest on health care, reminding us that Trump has no plan and has never had one. He reiterated his support for a public option, not for Medicare-for-all. His best line may have been: "Ten million people now have pre-existing conditions because of the president’s handling of covid. What are they going to do?” As Trump insisted Biden wanted to destroy private health insurance, Biden responded, "He’s a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against me, Joe Biden.”
Fifth, Biden made hay of his focus on working- and middle-class Americans, pointing out that Trump’s measure of success is the stock market. "Where I come from in Scranton and Claymont, the people don’t live off the stock market,” Biden said. His emphatic support for a $15 minimum wage was likely a winner in critical swing states. When Trump started trashing “Democrat cities,” Biden shot back that he would be the president for all of Americans.
Sixth, Trump’s utter lack of decency came when he insisted conditions for kids at the border were just swell. ("They are so well taken care of. They are in facilities that were so clean,” Trump said.) Biden emotionally hit back, “Separating children from their parents violates every value we hold as a nation.” Asked about Black parents who have to have the “talk” with children about encounters with the police that can turn fatal, Biden gave an empathetic answer acknowledging institutional racism; Trump hilariously claimed to have done more for African Americans than any other president since Abraham Lincoln.
Finally, on climate change, Biden made his case on job growth and green energy as Trump insisted windmills “kills all the birds.” He added this mumbo jumbo: “And the fumes coming up, if you are a believer in carbon emission, the fumes coming up to make these massive windmills is more than anything we’re talking about with natural gas, which is very clean.” It was one more reminder Trump is stunningly ignorant.
Biden had the final words of the debate, making a heartfelt pitch for decency and character. If Americans decide that is the defining issue, the election will not be close.
WINNER: Biden, moderator Kristen Welker