This was Donald Trump’s best presidential debate ever. His GOP primary debates in 2016 were of a different sort, for different purposes, with different targets. But this was a fabulous presidential debate for him. His best.
It also was a pretty decent night for Joe Biden.
Like so many others, I have no idea how sharply accurate or wildly inaccurate the polls are. Unlike people polled about anything else, the one polling topic that is dangerous for many is to say that one supports Trump for president. You might get suspended from your job. You might get fired. There may be a Twitter storm aimed at destroying you. You may get thrown off Facebook or Instagram or even from LinkedIn. Pollsters never before have conducted polls under Stalinist Russia circumstances, where people are terrified even to whisper “I back … Trump” or to wear a red MAGA hat or to affix a bumper sticker. Indeed, one of the best (or worst) ways to hurt someone you hate is to put a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker on their car — and then to look at the smashed windshield and other vandalism a few hours later.
So it is impossible to know what the polls mean. Like many, I believe Trump will do at least 3 percent, if not 6 or 7 percent, better in the election than what the polls prognosticate. Beyond that, there also is absolutely no way to know how the massive shift to mail-in voting will play out, especially in states that mail unsolicited ballots to everyone. Regardless, I suspect that the Thursday night final debate moved the needle two or three points in Trump’s direction. Here is why:
Yes, he missed inserting one or two unplanned solid zingers he might have thrown in, but every debater misses something. I have been in debates and on TV panels for 30 years, and no matter how well I have prepared I always kick myself afterwards for missing something. So when Biden, towards the end, spoke of “growing up in Delaware,” I wanted Trump to ask, “But Joe, I thought you told the Pennsylvania union workers whose jobs you shipped overseas, and whose high-paying energy jobs you have promised to kill, that you grew up in Pennsylvania? So where was it, Joe — Delaware or Pennsylvania? — or are you still changing your life’s fables every day like the time you stole the biography of that Labour Party leader in England and were forced to withdraw from a presidential race because of your constant plagiarizing?”
But Trump was great. I loved that he asked Biden, “Who built the cages, Joe?” And when Biden would not respond, I love that Trump asked it again, “Who built the cages, Joe?” And a third time. And when Biden just would not respond, I loved that Trump asked the moderator to ask Biden who built the cages.
Of course she was not going to put Biden on the spot. Like all the “moderators,” she is a leftist Democrat. But Trump got the point in. As he did, again and again, reminding viewers that Biden had 47 years in Washington to perform the initiatives he now says he will undertake. And Trump likewise pounded in, again and again, that Biden was just recently vice president for eight years. Just very recently. Indeed, not only did Biden fail to do any of the things he now promises to do, but Trump even brought home that he sought the presidency in 2016 out of disgust over Biden’s failures.
Trump got in that Biden failed on H1N1, a much less devastating illness. He got in that, on the issue of taxes, he may have paid $750 in the last phase of tax filing because he previously had paid tens of millions of dollars in advance tax payments. Americans can understand that; we just had not heard it before. As Biden went after Trump on Putin and on whether Trump profits from hotels in China, the door was opened for Trump to get into the Biden Family Criminal Enterprise: the son and siblings who all have profited in the many millions by leveraging their Biden Family Enterprise connections to extort millions implicitly from China and Russia and Ukraine. He had Biden lying all over the place — denying they had made millions from the wife of the Moscow mayor, from China, and even from Burisma. I listened carefully as Biden denied that he benefited corruptly from Burisma, but did not deny as explicitly that Hunter did. Trump even got Biden to lie about his oft-repeated pledge to kill hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).
Biden was good and at times strong, too. He was prepared. He did not shoot whoppers. But Trump had more to prove this time, and Trump aced it. That is why this debate moves the needle in Trump’s direction.
Sure, the debate was tilted and imbalanced. A darned shame, but that is going to happen forever until the GOP standard-bearer pays more attention in advance to getting the debates conducted fairly. So the questions primarily were aimed at asking Trump about things that paint him poorly, then asking Biden how he would fix it. And the topics — climate change? Y’know what? If you are so concerned about heat, how about California’s annual forest fires that result from crazy and irresponsible liberal Democrat forestry practices that ban removal of dead leaves, dry branches, and that ban lumber companies from clearing out wide swaths of trees — both to reduce fire spread and to allow sufficient width for emergency fire-fighting vehicles to reach hot points? If you are concerned about heat, what about Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots that see whole neighborhoods set ablaze? That was not on the agenda. Instead, the president was asked what he would tell Black parents who have “The Talk” with their children.
Y’know what? I am White. I am Jewish. When I was a boy, my Mother had “The Talk” with me, too: “Dov, you must always show respect to a police officer, even when they are wrong. Don’t ever talk back to them. Do what they tell you. If they are wrong, then we can tell it to the judge later. But don’t ever start up with a cop.” Thirty years later I had that talk with my kids, too: “If you ever get stopped by a cop in traffic, and he or she asks you for your auto registration or insurance, do not just open the glove compartment or reach into your jacket to get it. The cop may be crazy, maybe even a Jew-hater for all you know, and may think you are going for a gun. So first ask the cop: ‘Officer, may I reach into my pocket or glove compartment because that is where the papers are?’ And then let the cop tell you what to do.” If a cop tells you to stay seated in the car, stay seated. If a cop tells you to shut up, then shut up. (It never occurred to me to add, as should be added in the Age of Ferguson’s Michael Brown: “Don’t wrestle a cop for his gun. Don’t shoot a taser gun at a cop.”)
But this is the Left media, and Trump was asked. He answered exceptionally well. He has done more for Blacks than have most presidents other, maybe, than Lincoln. Could be. Prison reform. Criminal reform. Enterprise zones. Ten-year grants to Historically Black Universities and Colleges. Lowest Black unemployment numbers — ever. Compare that to Biden’s 47 years of incompetence and mediocrity. When Biden responded that he had been hampered by a Republican Congress, I wanted Trump to say, “You had complete Democrat control of the House, the Senate, and the White House for two whole years — how about that, Joe?” But Trump still retorted well: I got criminal reform done by negotiating with the other side; that’s how it’s done, Joe.
Finally, I was glad that, by my count, Trump repeated three times that he will guarantee covering preexisting conditions in any health-insurance program that emerges. He always says that, just as he always says that he opposes racism, White Supremacists, and neo-Nazis. Indeed, it was refreshing to hear an entire debate go by without a single lie about — or even reference to — Charlottesville.
Sure, I would have loved some questions like these:
In the end, Trump occasionally had to grab an extra moment or two, but he did it properly. His mike never had to be cut off. There were falsehoods that had to be corrected. Biden did it also, and that was fair.
Finally, I continue to resent how, every time the two candidates really get into a serious substantive disagreement, laying out two contrasting visions, the moderator always intercedes and says, “I have to get to new questions on a new topic.” Frankly, I suspect that most Americans do not give a rat’s patootie about what next topic the moderator wants to move to. They want to let the two guys talk, debate, and lay out their plans. One of these days …