Whew. Someone got through to Donald Trump that the constant interruptions and shouting did not work for him in the first presidential debate. Trump lost control a little as the debate wore on—witness when he suddenly, kind of out of nowhere, started yelling that Joe Biden isn’t really from Scranton, Pennsylvania—but this was a major turn-around in debate style. What Trump didn’t have to offer, though, was a turn-around in substance.
Trump remains a prolific liar. He remains a failure on COVID-19, with neither empathy to offer nor a real answer on how he will improve the response going forward. (And no, a false promise of a vaccine within weeks doesn’t count.) He continues to think that the relevant measure of the economy is stock market increases that benefit the top 1%, while he ignores how working people are doing—a point Biden hammered home as Trump shouted about the stock market. Where Trump insisted that the United States’ terrible response to the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t his fault, Biden pledged to listen to the scientists and invest in safely reopening schools. Where Trump brought petty, irrelevant, false attacks on Biden’s son Hunter, Biden brought the pledge to be a president for all of America, not just for his supporters. Where Trump completely refused remorse on the 545 migrant children separated from their parents who now cannot be found, Biden brought righteous anger at the inhumanity of family separation.
Trump looked physically pained at not being able to interrupt within Biden’s first answer, a look that only grew through the evening, with regular breakthroughs of his rage. We can’t overlook that. Trump was better than three weeks ago. He was partially under control. He still spent the evening spewing lies and personal attacks and losing his grip on his ability to avoid interruptions. This was by far his most disciplined performance in recent memory, for sure, though—and the thing is, with Trump out of his way, Biden was also able to shine.
Here’s the level at which Trump can talk policy: “I know more about wind than you do. Kills all the birds.”
Biden on the other hand was in command of the facts, from coronavirus to the economy to the environment to immigration. He repeatedly brought his answers back to the concerns of working families—of all races—speaking directly to their concerns. He showed, again and again, the basic decency he has brought to the campaign and to his career.
Trump lied and race-baited and made his usual claim that no one since Abraham Lincoln has done what he’s done for Black people and claimed to be “the least racist person in this room.”
“Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we’ve had in modern history,” Biden responded. “He pours fuel on every single racist fire.”
Trump tried to bait Biden with accusations that he had gotten nothing done as vice president, hectoring him, “All talk and no action.” Why didn’t Biden, as vice president, get every single thing done that he supports, Trump insisted he answer.
“There was a Republican Congress,” Biden answered, letting it hang. “That’s it. That’s the answer.” That’s the disciplined Biden who showed up. So let the record reflect that while Donald Trump was not the screaming banshee he was in the first debate, Biden continued to be the one to raise the tone and show the discipline and care we need in a president.