In the final debate of the year, Donald Trump came prepared and disciplined.
That was the almost universal reaction as the debate took place in Nashville, Tennessee. Hosted by NBC and White House correspondent Kristen Welker, the debate was much less of a train wreck than the first one a few weeks ago. Trump took on Democratic nominee and former vice president Joe Biden in a calmer and more controlled way than most appeared to be expecting; and because of that, he came across as more presidential than he has in quite a while.
Trump clearly came into the debate practiced and prepared — and with a game plan. His entire strategy was focused on being on offense the entire night. Every single question was turned into an attack on Biden, and he did so without interrupting Biden. It flustered Biden at times, getting him overly-passionate in some of his responses, groaning with an “Oh, God” on occasion, and just sarcastic laughter when he wasn’t able to respond to Trump’s attacks.
Biden, I think, would have liked to be on offense more, but he was stuck having to respond to Trump and that clearly got to him. There are a lot more attacks he clearly wanted to make, but he was struggling, and as the night progressed, slipping up and making mistakes as time went on.
Insofar as you can “win” a presidential debate, it appears that Trump did come out on top. He was on message, while forcing Biden to answer questions on his terms. That kept the former vice president from really landing any clear blows.
On the flip side, all Trump had to do going in was be disciplined. It was a pretty low bar, and to his credit, he did clear it. What we have to look for now is a sign that it will have a positive impact. The trend lines seem to indicate that, going into tonight’s debate, Trump was seeing an upward trend. In the coming days, we could see that bump up. If it does, that’s a clear sign the American voters liked what they saw in tonight’s debate.
If things stay the same, then we know that the undecided voters are still nervous — particularly where COVID-19 and the economy are concerned — and are hesitant to return to pull the lever for Trump again.
I do think Trump won tonight’s debate, and I think this level of discipline is a very good thing for him. I am also very sure that he would be up 10 points right now. Hopefully for the president, it is not too late to close the gap between him and Biden in key swing states.