Right after the debate, my gut reaction was that Trump won (barely).
Trump is a known quantity going into a debate. You know how he’s going to behave and you know how he’s going to attack. With Trump, there is no level of decorum that he won’t violate. These are all things we know good and damn well.
If Biden can’t stay composed and is forced to call Trump stupid, tell him to shut up, flat out call him a liar and racist, and be belligerent in many of his exchanges, he is falling down to Trump’s level, not rising above it. If anything, American voters looking for a more presidential choice were left staring into empty glasses last night, wondering if it was possible to be any more pessimistic about the country’s future.
The morning after the debate, after a night spent largely awake and thinking about it, it was hard for me to say either candidate won. I think Biden exceeded expectations, but still fell short of where he should be as a candidate. His rhetoric was sloppy, he stumbled over words, and he was frequently taking the bait Trump offered. I spent the last 45 minutes of the debate wondering if we’d see Biden challenge Trump to a fight.
But Trump was… Trump. I am very much in the “character counts” camp when it comes to who I vote for. There were many instances where all Trump had to do was keep quiet and let Biden dig a hole for himself. But he got carried away and there were times he made himself look bad in moments where Biden could have looked bad. Trump is good at being a fighter. But like a lot of fighters, he sometimes (okay, yeah, lots of times) doesn’t know when to stop fighting and, as Sun Tzu would recommend, use the enemy’s own momentum to defeat them.
Neither candidate “lost” on Tuesday night. I expect the polling won’t change much over the next week, though I could easily envision a scenario where the polling swings in either direction. But while neither lost, I can’t say that either won. It was an absolute trainwreck from start to finish, and that’s the truth here.
Probably the biggest loser of Tuesday night’s debate, though, was Chris Wallace. I have not read a single review of the debate that casts Wallace as successful. Throughout the night, the moderator made himself part of the fight after spending weeks declaring he would be practically invisible through the night. He was tougher on Trump than Biden was, and that was without “fact-checking” the President — a promise Wallace did manage to keep.
What’s bad for Wallace is that he represented his network, a network that is constantly under assault from the rest of the mainstream press over its loyalty to Trump. He had the opportunity to make his network appear professional, fair, and capable. As a pretty consistent Trump critic, Wallace had the chance to really make the network shine. Instead, he helped give it a black eye when it didn’t need one.
Of course, that’s not to say Fox News needs all the good PR it can get. It’s still killing in the ratings. But, it really sucks that Wallace’s inability to keep the candidates contained (granted, without the anticipated rules changes, I’m not sure that any moderator from another network would have done any better) gives Brian Stelter and the gang more ammo to make themselves appear more righteous (God, they are insufferable).
Ultimately, if there were any sure winners in Tuesday night’s debate, it was striped tie enthusiasts and distilleries. As for me, I don’t know whether I want to become an alcoholic or a 7th Day Adventist.