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  • Jeffrey A. Rendall

Assault on America, Day 637: Grudge match in Cleveland results in all style, little substance

Tuesday night’s “debate” was odd from the first moment and went downhill from there

“This is strange,” I thought as Tuesday night’s first-in-the-cycle presidential debate commenced in Cleveland, Ohio. The program was moderated by Fox News personality Chris Wallace, certainly no friend to President Donald Trump (or seemingly, to Democrat nominee Joe Biden either), and the audience was small enough to fit inside a large high school classroom.


In the age of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or Wuhan, if you prefer) virus, “normal” doesn’t exist. The lack of buzz in the air added to the weirdness, the forum having more of the feel of the final Democrat “studio” debate (back in March between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders) rather than the typical quadrennial tension-so-thick-you-could-slice-it-with-a-knife sense of urgency.


In the day and age of the 24-hour news cycle with non-stop social media posts, this face-to-face meeting was a tad anti-climactic in terms of drama. Like a World Series game or Super Bowl with empty stands, it just didn’t feel like the “real thing.” Nonetheless, it was must-see-TV and the performers, for the most part, did not disappoint. If you wanted opposing worldviews and a willingness to throw unrelenting verbal punches, you certainly got ‘em in Cleveland!


Everyone who’s paid attention to politics in the recent past had a pretty good notion of what the candidates would say in the 90-minute program. Biden’s sole strategy was to offer as little substance as possible, present pie-in-the-sky numbers as though they were facts and do everything within his power to make the election all about Trump. Trump’s goal was to make his presidential tenure sound as though it was the greatest ever, never give an inch to his haters and the “fake news” media and pronounce victory before the first word was uttered.


That’s vintage Trump, and his backers love him for it.


That being said… this was the strangest presidential debate I’ve ever witnessed. The questions from Wallace weren’t necessarily the issue as much as the contenders constantly interrupting each other and “fact checking” on the spur of the moment -- while the other one was still talking. I don’t think Wallace did much to improve the situation; you almost felt sorry for the guy being in the proverbial middle and having to try and restore order.


It felt like being a policeman at a protest or a rally. You can have some miscreant shouting in your face and there’s nothing can do about it. Whenever either participant would start talking about policy and plans for the future, the other would chime in and attempt to throw the other off course. In the few instances where there was room for a couple minute-length answer, one could begin to see actual positions of the candidates and parties. It didn’t happen very often.


Sad to say, from a presentation standpoint, I think Biden got the better of it. Presidential debates in our day and age aren’t struggles over policy and accomplishments as much as they center around who was more “presidential” and in control of their emotions. Everyone knows President Trump is dealing with a lot these days, but he seemed tired, and, for lack of a better word, irritated. After three years of endless investigations and media slimes, he has a right to be defensive. But he shouldn’t have tried to make up for it all in one evening.


The outsider from New York has never been one to adhere to accepted notions of decorum, but this was one instance where constantly losing his cool didn’t help his cause. If the polls are correct -- that he’s behind nationally and in some key states -- it’s hard to see where he’s going to pick up any undecided voters with such an undisciplined act. It’s one thing to attack the swamp, it’s another thing to behave as though you’re a biker in a bar brawl.


I’m not sure anyone was listening at the end… and if they were, Grampa Joe seemed to be the much nicer guy, even if he stumbled and stammered about “climate change” and paying Brazil to stop tearing down the rainforests. Seriously, Joe? Is Congress gonna appropriate funds for South America?


From the outset it was obvious Biden would be very aggressive. The vast majority of his voters couldn’t care less what his platform might be, they want to see that one, he has enough brain cells left to handle the job, and two, that he’s sufficiently angry enough to pass the “things are awful today because of Trump” test. Joe seemed to pass the exam on both accounts.


Biden paused a number of times, apparently searching for thoughts. And his lifelong stutter was also in evidence, but it probably engendered sympathy from the gullible and ill-informed more than offering hints that he was mentally slipping. Trump was the much more assertive candidate, but he also came across as petty and vindictive quite a lot.


Pettiness and vindictiveness are Democrat traits. Someone Trump trusts, perhaps daughter Ivanka or wife Melania, had better sit down with the president and tell him he’d be much more effective in delivering his message if he’d just let Joe blabber on and commit his standard every other sentence gaffe -- and then destroy him on the rebuttal. Patience, Donald!


If this is a “series,” Trump must come back strong in the next two performances. Or he could be in danger of ceding America’s future to a man who said the “Green New Deal would pay for itself,” and, “Antifa is an idea, not an organization.” Where’s the perspective?


Maybe debate preparation is more important than we thought


Leading into the evening, as is true every four years, the media was intensely curious as to how the men “prepped for the debate.” Biden has been hiding out much of the past week -- as he has been for the last six-plus months -- purportedly to “practice” debating the incumbent. Trump himself was asked during his Sunday press conference what he’s been doing to prepare for the hour-and-a-half test, and he indicated he'd been working with a couple individuals who were “playing the part” of Biden in a mock format.


Practice makes perfect, of course, but there’s no such thing as perfection in the political realm. Both men laid it all out on Tuesday night. Biden has been around too long to slip up badly -- or at least appear like he’d blown everything. Perhaps it was the “performance enhancing drugs” that Trump suggested he’d take prior to the program or the near half-century the man’s been around the swamp, but there’s no way Democrats were going to allow their doddering, mentally-slipping candidate to botch it badly.


Who knows. Maybe they threatened to demote him if he screwed up. Kamala Harris was likely waiting for the phone call.


It’s easy being a liberal, and Biden is one of the more practiced at stating and restating the same refrains he’s been echoing for years. If anything, it’s like a handbook; look up an issue and there’s a canned answer. Illegal aliens are “undocumented persons” who just want to come here for a better life. Government expenditures are “investments” that supposedly pay off with interest to an unnamed constituency that votes Democrat. And no matter what -- Republicans are against “women’s rights” even if they are female or appoint women to high positions, as Trump did last weekend with Judge Amy Comey Barrett.


Biden didn’t directly attack Barrett, though he did indicate elevating her to the Court would spell the end of healthcare for the poor and those with pre-existing conditions. Lies that went unchallenged by Wallace -- and Trump could only try and interject. It didn’t go well.


Joe himself isn’t necessarily a bad debater -- again, he’s been doing this long enough -- but he’s so gaffe-prone that expectations were already so low going in… that simply managing to stand erect for the allotted time meant he’s qualified to be president. Liberals used a similar rationale in their “With Her” 2016 campaign for Hillary Clinton. Then, as now, they sought to make the choice all about Trump. Biden couldn’t stop the endless recriminations against Trump the person, but did little to assail policies that have by and large worked to stimulate the economy.


As for Trump, he “preps” for debates basically every day. Not only does he hold frequent rallies where he reads from prepared remarks from a teleprompter (and generously deviates from them every other sentence to add his own Trump-like personality signature), but the president also regularly takes questions from the press, most of which is hostile and searching for dirt. It could easily be claimed Trump is the most accessible president ever. He seems to enjoy taking questions and answering them. The media screams and howls because they don’t like his answers.


Facing the media several times a week is arguably all the “prep” Trump requires to take part in a “debate,” since the candidates are essentially answering a series of questions from a media member (and not necessarily responding to an opponent). Speaking for roughly half the time at an hour-and-a-half long debate is pretty easy stuff for Trump. If given the opportunity, the president would likely talk for the entire time. And he could do it without notes or a teleprompter. Could Grampa Joe say the same?


Going forward, Trump appears to need more formal practice. His record is good enough to get people to notice, but his delivery needs polishing. This isn’t a rally where he’s asking people if they would prefer a female or male Supreme Court candidate. Biden put him on the defensive on Tuesday night and Trump took the bait. Here’s hoping he starts prepping for the next debate…today, if possible.


Trump won the debate on substance, lost (badly) in presentation


Trump really didn’t need to engage in a shouting match with Biden. He’s the president, he has a record full of accomplishments and they stand alone regardless of what the idiot opposite him has to say. Facts are simple things. Trump has made three Supreme Court appointments. No matter how many times Democrats say “Merrick Garland” it doesn’t mean squat because Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are seated on the Court with lifetime appointments and Judge Amy Coney Barrett will join them in several weeks.


Basically, all Trump needed to do was act presidential and in command of the issues. He had to have known going in to the evening that Biden was bent on demagoguing the COVID-19 issue to death (check!), blame Trump for the unemployment situation that was created when mostly blue state governors shuttered their own state’s businesses (check!) and repeat ad nauseum things like “this isn’t who we are” and “systemic racism” (check!, check!).


Biden repeated the lie that Trump said “There were very fine people on both sides” at Charlottesville. Why didn’t Wallace clarify the true circumstances?


Trump also certainly realized that Biden would harken back to the Obama years as though it was the golden age of American greatness. “Hope and Change” met reality, alright. I’m not sure about the “hope” part was but “change” worked fine. Only in Obama and Biden’s world would women who claim to be men -- and vice versa -- be granted license to run roughshod over the finest military on the planet.


Trump has a reputation for being demanding and direct to close aides but is rarely impolite in person. To this observer at least, he would’ve done better if he’d treated his smirking, head nodding, laughing and out-of-touch opponent with the kindness and gentleness of walking an old lady across the street. Do this, and he’s the clear debate winner.


Trump supporters like his fighting spirit. But they also admire his political acumen and willingness to go the extra mile to keep his promises. All will be lost if he loses control in a debate setting. “Presidential” matters, at least in this instance.


The dynamic might be different at the next debate since it’s slated to be a “town hall” type format, presumably with questions from “real” people audience members. Biden won’t be as able to deflect questions about his leftist agenda and Hunter’s dirty dealings when the query stems from a voter. Let’s hope round two goes to the champion.

  • 2020 Election

  • Cleveland debate

  • Joe Biden

  • Donald Trump

  • Supreme Court

  • economy

  • COVID-19

  • Fact-check

  • Chris Wallace

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