First, let me pay brief homage to Kristen Welker, moderator of Thursday night’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. A White House correspondent for NBC, she is pretty clearly not an enthusiast for President Trump. But unlike the wretched Chris Wallace, she did not make the debate a two-versus-one shouting match against the President. And unlike Steve Scully, who was scheduled to moderate the canceled second debate, she did not covertly consult with one of the President’s enemies and then lie about it when exposed. She was calm, deliberate and professional, and if she harped too much for my taste on this year’s seasonal respiratory illness and race relations, she conducted herself with more dignity and aplomb, and less obvious bias, than any moderator in recent memory. Kudos to her for that.
The debate itself? Trump crushed it. Gone were the angry interruptions of the first debate. Instead, he moved methodically, like a battle tank, over Biden’s incontinent expostulations.
The evening began with a long segment on COVID. Back in the heady days of March 2020, I argued in these pages that the virus would be terrifying, but mostly as a weapon of political propaganda. A few weeks later, Dr Deborah Birx, she of the 1,000 scarves, said that if we handled the disease ‘almost perfectly’, we would wind up with about 200,000 people dead from its effects. She was right about the number of fatalities. I’d say that the reason the number was not higher is because the President did indeed handle the pandemic ‘almost perfectly’, a point he could have made last night.
It doesn’t matter that he didn’t. The ‘IFR’, the fatality rate for the disease, is collapsing everywhere. Young people are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, effectively immune to the disease. The President’s stunning mobilization of resources to protect against and treat the disease have led to vastly better outcomes from those who do sicken from the disease. As he said, we know a lot more about the disease now than we did last winter. It has been clear for some time that major threats of the coronavirus are psychological and political. The psychological threat is that doom-mongers have terrified people with visions of the Black Death over a nasty respiratory virus that is worse, but not much worse, than a bad seasonal flu. The political threat is the astonishing alacrity with which large sections of the populace were willing, nay, eager to make themselves sheep to the gauleiter-like imperatives of the health police and state and local politicians who arrogated to themselves a stunning range of emergency powers. The President made the point forcefully that the effects of our response to the disease were far worse than the disease itself. It was time, nay past time, for the country to open up and get on with life. Joe Biden looked like a cross between an aged Chicken Little and Nietzsche’s last man in his effort to blame the President for coronavirus.
It was pretty much the same on all the topics proposed for debate: immigration, race, the economy, race, fossil fuels, race, foreign policy, race, ‘climate change’, race, race, race, and did I mention ‘people of color’?
Time and again the President reminded viewers that Joe Biden has been in politics for 47 years. A scant four years ago, he completed eight years as vice president. What did he have to show for it? Donald Trump has been president for three-and-three-quarters years. He has remade the judiciary, having seen some 300 federal judges ‘in the mold of Antonin Scalia’ confirmed. Next week, when Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, he will have supplied a third of the Court’s bench. He presided over an astonishing run in the stock market, an accumulation of wealth that, as he pointed out last night, benefits everyone, not just the zillionaires who own lots of stocks. Unemployment on his watch was, pre-COVID, at a generational low. Among Blacks and Hispanics, it was the lowest on record. Wages, especially wages at the bottom, were rising fast. He cut taxes for something like 85 percent of taxpayers while also rolling back prosperity-blighting regulation. His exploitation of the country’s gas and oil made America energy independent for the first time in decades. Fracking was a large part of that story, and, true to his word, the President has provided video evidence that Joe Biden has gone on record to announce his opposition to fracking and fossil fuels. It looks like that is a topic that interests people, since, as of this morning, it has been viewed more than 10 million times.
You could tell that Joe Biden was trying as hard as he could. But he kept skidding off the point and into his favorite rejoinder: ‘Come on.’ (I counted more than a dozen deployments of the phrase; all the best authorities caution against using it more than once per debate.)
There were two pivotal moments in the evening. The first was this exchange:
Donald Trump: Would you close down the oil industry?
Joe Biden: [pointless temporizing] Yes.
That, as the President said, is ‘a big statement’, a declaration, in effect, of failure. In the movie Apollo 13, there is a moment when mission control tells Jim Lovell, the commander, to shut down the capsule’s fuel cells: ‘We just lost the moon.’ The second pivotal moment had two parts: Joe Biden’s prediction that America was about to head into ‘a dark winter’ with a resurgence of COVID and the President’s observation, towards the end of the evening, that ‘success is going to bring us together’. Quite a contrast. And it was precisely the contrast that most viewers took away. Joe Biden has been in politics for most of his adult life. What has he accomplished — apart, I mean, from (allegedly) enriching himself and his family? As the President several times observed, and as Joe Biden’s performance underscored, he is ‘all talk and no action’.
With less than two weeks to go, Biden is surging in the polls. No surprise there. Pollsters are happy to play games on the run up to an election in order to pad their favored candidate. But in order to be taken seriously next time around they have to pay some attention to reality as the election draws nigh. That time is now. As regular readers know, I have been predicting Trump’s victory for months. His strong show last night sealed the deal.