Biden’s strategy was also clear: To stick to his talking points, try not to engage much, and deny Trump what he wanted.
Biden lost his cool at a few points, including asking, “Will you shut up?” At another point: “It’s hard to get any word in with this clown — excuse me, this person.” At another: “Keep yapping, man.”
Biden was exasperated at times, and at other times he dealt with the barrage effectively. At one point Trump tried to cut in by saying, “Can I be honest?” Biden shot back: “Try and be honest.”
It wasn’t enlightening from a policy standpoint, mostly because Trump wanted a food fight. Biden didn’t give it to him, which reinforced the reality of who’s leading this race right now.
2. Trump’s coronavirus answers get no better
Trump’s biggest liability in the election is the coronavirus, on which polls regularly show even some of his supporters don’t think he’s done a good job.
Trump offered little to change that. And Biden had some of his strongest moments on this subject.
Trump was also asked about his mask skepticism, at which point he argued masks are fine and that he wears them when he thinks he needs them (which is rarely in public). Biden noted that Trump continues to hold rallies in which masks have often been scarce.
“He’s not worried about you,” Biden said. “He’s not worried about the people out there breathing.”
Biden summed up his case accordingly: “He’s been totally irresponsible in the way in which he has handled the social distancing and people wearing masks, basically encouraged them not to. And he’s a fool on this.”
Trump gambled that voters will be more turned off by Biden saying he would shut things down again if health officials advised it, baselessly accusing Democrats of using current mitigation methods for electoral benefit.
3. An awful debate
A few weeks ago, Wallace delivered one of the toughest interviews ofTrump to date — a rare instance in which Trump has been repeatedly fact-checked on his falsehoods and didn’t seem to know what to do.
Wallace was in some ways set up to fail on Tuesday night. He wasn’t supposed to fact-check the candidates like he did Trump a few weeks ago. And it wasn’t clear that any moderator would be able to handle what was thrown at him. But it just wasn’t a good debate.
Wallace allowed himself to be something of a wallflower early on, as Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden and Biden sometimes interrupted Trump — before either of them could convey a cogent thought.
But what struck me most was Wallace’s attempts to almost placate Trump.
“Mr. President you’re going to be very happy, because we’re going to talk about law and order,” Wallace said at one point while trying to move past Trump talking over Biden.
“Let me ask — sir, you’ll be happy, I’m about to pick up on one of your points to ask the vice president,” Wallace said at another point.
At other points, though, Wallace noted that Trump was clearly the chief offender.
“And by the way, Mr. President, your campaign agreed that both sides would get two minute answers uninterrupted,” Wallace noted later in the debate.
Again, it was an impossible situation, but it will hardly go down as a great presidential debate.
4. Biden distances himself from the left
One of the prevailing GOP attacks on Biden is that he would be beholden to the far left. Biden set out at the start of the debate to combat that.
When Trump goaded Biden on some of the more extreme elements of his party, Biden shot back, “I am the Democratic Party right now. The platform of the Democratic Party is what I in fact approved of,” adding for emphasis: “what I approved of.”
When Trump tied to connect Biden’s health are plan to Bernie Sanders, Biden responded, “The fact of the matter is I beat Bernie Sanders.”
Trump retorted: “Not by much.”
Biden responded: “I beat him [by] a whole hell of a lot.”
(Biden won more than 2,600 delegates while Sanders won 1,073.)
Biden also pressed that there is systemic racism, but echoed an argument that the GOP often makes about police — that those who abuse their power are the rare “bad apples.”
Later on, Biden again pointedly declined to attach himself to a push by liberals upset over Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination to abolish the filibuster or pack the Supreme Court, saying voters should have their voice heard on the topic.
“Whatever position I take and that that will become the issue?” Biden said. “The issue is the American people should speak. You should go out and vote.”
It wasn’t a profile in bold politics, and it could disappoint some of his liberal allies — Trump at one point shot back, “You just lost the left” — but it was clear Biden wanted to insulate himself, which was probably the smart play given that he leads the race.
5. Trump’s bad pivot
Trump tried to make an issue of Biden’s son, Hunter, including at one an especially insensitive moment.
But even as Biden was going down that road, Trump attempted a brutal pivot.
“He was not a ‘loser.’ He was a patriot,” Biden said. “And the people left behind —”
“Oh really?” Trump said. “Are you talking about Hunter? Are you talking about Hunter?”
“I’m talking about my son, Beau Biden,” Biden shot back.
The right answer was something like: We salute Beau’s service, but let’s also talk about this other thing. The answer Trump gave was jarring, and it did nothing to undercut the reported claims about Trump’s military comments — some of which echo his very public comments.