A couple of days ago, Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff observed that ‘Going back at least as far as Ronald Reagan, incumbent presidents have not done well in first debates.’ Was that true tonight?
Yes and no. President Trump interrupted too often, he did not respond to Chris Wallace’s questions or Joe Biden’s assertions with the specificity that his record has armed him with.
For his part, Joe Biden did not drool in his shoe or utterly lose the thread of the discussion. So he exceeded expectations.
The whole performance was odd. I tuned into C-SPAN to avoid the other droolers. There was the usual boosterism from the organizers of the event. I half listened to that. Suddenly, though, the audio cut out when Chris Wallace emerged, no doubt to explain the rules and preen a bit. I take that as another sign that Providence is a beneficent force.
The sound came back on a few seconds before Donald Trump and Joe Biden took the stage, so I knew that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.
On balance, I think I have to say that the President did.
By ‘won’, by the way, I mean how did the candidates impress the people watching them.
The main issues?
- Law and order. Trump won that one hands down. He’s for it. Biden would not utter the phrase
- Race. I think Trump won that as well. No sentient person approves of Black Lives Matter, antifa or critical race theory. The President could have articulated the case against that racist nonsense better than he did, but I think he beat sleepy Joe to the finish line on that issue
- Climate nonsense. I think Trump won there as well. I wish he had said — what is the truth — that ‘the science’ shows little evidence of anthropogenic contributions to climate change or global warming. He should have said — and I quote the great Robert Bryce — that what the world needs is cheap, abundant energy, period, full stop, end of discussion
- The economy. Trump’s record is brilliant. He did not explain that as fully as he might have done.
- COVID. I believe that he handled the pandemic very well. His early decision to end flights from China was critical. His mobilization of the business community to produce medical materiel was extraordinary. And his emergency economic interventions were stunningly effective. He did not summarize all that as forcefully as he might have done
For his part, Joe Biden told a lot of fibs. He brought back the old saw about the President saying there were ‘good people on both sides’ after the Charlottesville protest. Biden omitted to note that the second part of his sentence where he said ‘I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists.’
Joe also reprised the recent canard that the President referred to American soldiers buried in France as ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’. No he didn’t.
In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel criticizes a fellow Teutonic fog-dispenser saying that his philosophy is just one bare assertion pitted against another.
There was a lot of that tonight.
Joe Biden said a lot of outrageous things over the course of the evening. He wildly misrepresented Trump’s record and his own. Particularly amusing was his little riff about the importance of ‘buying American’, as if that were not a centerpiece of Trump’s America First policy.
Biden lost out on the Green New Deal — he’s for it — law and order — he’s against it — and the whole discussion about race and energy. Trump would have done himself a favor by letting Biden do more to hang himself with his own words. Still, I believe that Trump won. Curiously, although I believe that Chris Wallace does not have much time for Trump, Wallace’s most probing questions were to Biden. What would his commitment to following elements of the Green New Deal actually cost? Joe had no answer.
This first debate was not a disaster for Biden, though I did get the sense that his medication was beginning to wear off towards the end of the event. But I wouldn’t wager on his luck holding out much longer.