President Trump and Joe Biden will face off in the first of a series of presidential debates on Tuesday night. Team Trump says he has been preparing by watching videos of Biden and by regularly squaring off with unfriendly press, while Biden is reviewing Trump’s tweets and engaging in practice sessions with a group of aides and strategists at his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The President’s rather informal preparations have apparently worried the campaign, which is now trying to raise expectations for the candidate that they’ve repeatedly painted as cognitively impaired.
‘We’re prepared to see the same Joe Biden who won his vice presidential debates in 2008 and 2012 on stage versus President Trump. As a creature of the swamp for nearly 50 years, debating is Biden’s forte and it would be shocking if his performance doesn’t reflect that,’ Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager told The Spectator.
The bar is much lower for Biden now than it was in 2008 and 2012, which presents an additional hurdle for Trump. If voters are expecting a mentally ill old man who can’t string a sentence together, all the former vice president really has to do is show up and not make any major gaffes to be declared the victor. It’s unlikely Trump can overcome this perception gap by accusing Biden of being on drugs or being a racist. However, the campaign’s point about Biden being a career politician could be the key to Trump winning back the non-college-educated voters that propelled him to the White House in 2016.
The one attack line for which Biden has not surmounted a reasonable defense is that he is a phony. Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his once-wealthy father fell on hard times and had to clean boilers for some time, prompting the family’s move to Wilmington, Delaware. But that’s about as far as his working-class roots run. Biden went on to law school and was first elected senator at the age of 29. Biden’s long-running political career since then has been characterized by his support of policies that sold out blue-collar America and his embellishments of his record and background.
It was, remember, Biden’s dishonesty that sunk his promising 1988 campaign for president. The candidate lifted entire phrases from a speech by British Labour party politician Neil Kinnock. Conveniently, Biden’s plagiarized speech was intended to demonstrate that he was a champion for the working man:
‘Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university?… Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree? That I was smarter than the rest? Those same people who read poetry and wrote poetry and taught me how to sing verse? Is it because they didn’t work hard? My ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours?’
It quickly came to light that this wasn’t the first time Biden had taken credit for other people’s work — he had failed a class in law school after being accused of using five pages of a law review article without attribution. And other political speeches, Biden had ripped off Robert F. Kennedy’s populist message warning against using the GDP as an indicator of national health and Hubert Humphrey’s famous passage about taking care of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.
Even worse, when Biden was reciting Kinnock’s words, he was telling the public a lie. He was not the first in his family to go to college, and his ancestors were not coal miners. Biden repeated the lie about being the first in his family to go to college in September in an attempt to bolster his blue-collar street cred next to Trump, saying, ‘Like, guys like me, were the first in my family to go to college… We are as good as anybody else. And guys like Trump, who inherited everything and squandered what they inherited are the people that I’ve always had a problem with, not the people who are busting their neck.’ It’s also arguable if Biden belongs to the camp of people ‘busting their neck’ — he did not actually get a full academic scholarship to attend law school, as he once claimed, nor did he finish at the top of his class (he finished near the bottom).
It’s telling that Biden feigns a blue-collar background considering how several of his biggest political decisions hurt the working class the most. Biden voted for NAFTA and normalizing trade relations with China. He supported TPP, which collectively hollowed out American manufacturing and shipped jobs overseas. He championed the Iraq War, which meant working class young men who chose the military over going into debt for college were sent to die in a conflict that had no clear end-goal and was predicated on lies. Biden has tried to make up for these major policy blunders through theft and by accusing Trump of only working on behalf of wealthy Americans. He ripped the title of his ‘Build Back Better’ plan for working families from the United Nations and his ‘Buy American’ campaign from an unsigned executive order drafted during the Trump administration. He falsely claimed that the savings from the Tax Cut and Jobs Act ‘went to folks at the top and corporations’. In reality, 91 percent of American taxpayers in the middle quintile received a tax cut. 80.4 percent of taxpayers overall received a cut.
Trump is what his son, Donald Jr, likes to call a ‘blue-collar billionaire’. He did not grow up in the Rust Belt, nor did his family struggle with money, yet he somehow intrinsically understands and speak to working-class issues more authentically than a lifelong politician like Biden. He doesn’t pander to this segment of Americans, nor does he try to downplay his own wealth and success. Even as the Washington Post claims Trump has told over 10,000 lies since taking office, it is this particular sense of honesty that endears him to middle America. If Trump is able to make this distinction between himself and Biden during the debate, he will find it a very successful line of attack.