Donald Trump had arguably his best debate performance ever on Thursday night, for which he owes a big ‘thank you’ to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The CPD instituted a new rule for the debate in Nashville: each candidate would have their microphone turned off while their opponent was giving their initial two-minute response. This was intended to prevent the consistent interruptions that occurred during the first debate, which were primarily blamed on Trump but were started by former vice president Joe Biden. I suspect that the CPD, which has proved itself to be very biased, thought this would harm the President most. People who don’t like Trump tend to believe that his combative argumentative debate style is due to a lack of substance; he talks over his opponent to silence their points and distract from the fact that he has none. This was proven to be completely false on Thursday.
Trump’s usual aggression on the debate stage was reeled in when he didn’t have a functional microphone. Instead we saw him biding his time, taking notes and dismantling Biden’s points. It was a marked difference from the first debate when Trump cut the rope every time Biden threatened to hang himself. Tonight, Trump forced Biden to reveal that he wanted to grant amnesty to over 10 million illegal immigrants, to transition American energy away from oil and that he still has no defense for the 1994 crime bill. The first two are disasters for middle America; the latter is no winner among minorities. Biden got pinned down on Hunter’s emails that alleged meetings between foreign business partners and the former VP and discussed cash in exchange for introductions, which he pathetically explained away as ‘Russian disinformation’.
For those who love feisty Trump, there were still plenty of zingers when the President’s microphone was on. He jabbed Biden for being stuck in his basement, asked rhetorically who built the cages for children in detention centers on the US-Mexico border and smartly blasted Biden for using a rehearsed politician line about families sitting around their kitchen tables and discussing the economy.
Trump was perhaps most successful in presenting his vision for a post-COVID America, something that will certainly appeal to individuals who have been harmed economically by the lockdowns. The President spoke optimistically about reopening the country safely, rolling out a vaccine and getting children back in school. Biden offered a much darker perspective: Americans will wake up tomorrow, he said, missing a family member and 200,000 more Americans will die before the crisis is over. It is the type of fear-mongering that might have worked a few months ago, but is now out of touch with what most people now think at least privately — that virus is not nearly deadly enough to justify continuing a devastating shutdown.
Not all of the credit for Trump’s performance should go to the CPD, of course. He clearly was far more prepared and had been coached on several issues by the campaign (he opted not to bring up Hunter Biden‘s drug addiction this time around). The debate moderator, Kristen Welker, was far more fair than Fox News’s Chris Wallace. It is a shame for the Trump campaign that they only got two debates, because this one was a major win for their team.