This is a hard one, folks. Time and again, this debate proved to me that this is a terrifying time to be alive. Two old men shouting at each other while a third old man tries to get them to stop shouting at each other? Watching this debate was a type of self-destructive behavior that I’ll be recovering from for a while, I think.
However, let’s briefly review who came out on top tonight.
Winner: Trump (but Barely)
If we’re talking about a straight-up “did better than the other guy,” I think the winner is actually Trump. In terms of presentation, Trump didn’t stumble over his words near as much as Biden, and while he was trying to bait Biden throughout the night, he didn’t resort to namecalling like Biden did (calling Trump a racist, telling him to “shut up”, etc.). Biden did have some slip-ups and got visibly upset with Trump at times, and was even derailed into talking about Hunter Biden and his drug problem.
But it’s not as though Trump had a grand slam tonight. Trump’s very transparent attempts to derail Biden were hamfisted and at times unappealing. Yes, they worked, but he had to be over the top and somewhat obnoxious to make it happen. Trump also had to battle with Wallace a lot more than Biden did, which is never a good look for the debater.
And sure, most of you reading this will disagree with that last assessment vehemently. “Trump was battling a totally hostile moderator!” I saw that on Twitter all night. You knew going in who Wallace was and how he was going to be treating Trump. Trump also knew that and made the conscious decision to do battle with him anyway. That doesn’t make him appear stronger. It makes him appear combative and while Trump’s base may love it, the undecided voters are not always so excited about that trait in a candidate.
The Democrats, though, are going to proclaim quite loudly that Biden won, but making that claim ignores a lot of Biden’s flaws. He is clearly finding it difficult to keep up with the questions and the talking points, and a seasoned debater like him should know better than to take the bait Trump was offering time after time.
There were many moments when Biden did not look good. Personally, I did not think Trump looked good at several points because of his combative behavior. But Biden has no experience dealing with someone like Trump. At so many points, the President had him off balance, and that is a big reason why I think Trump came across as more of a winner.
With the election just over a month away, both candidates should be clearly laying out their platform. Trump spent this debate attacking nonstop, while Biden did the same thing. Neither candidate ever explained a reason to vote for them beyond “The other guy is so much worse.” That makes it very difficult to say that either won, because we don’t really know what they’re even fighting for at this point.
However, I don’t think we’ll see a bump for either candidate after this debate, which could end up being a good thing for Trump. If Biden is unable to gain a bigger lead in the polls, then that means there is a chance for Trump to catch up. And, if that’s the case, then that means Trump may really have won this after all.