Last night debate between Trump and Biden covered a wide range of issues from the Supreme Court, the Wuhan Virus, the Economy, race, law and order, and the candidates’ record
Alfred Thayer Mahan was a 19th-century naval historian and theorist who argued that fleets of big capital ships should seek a decisive battle to win control the seas, ala Trafalgar in 1805. During the Second World War, the Imperial Japanese Navy subscribed to this theory and ended up losing four aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway. Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, believed in incremental campaigns with clear objectives and ended the war In Tokyo Bay.
In a way, political pundits are adherents of the Mahanist theory of politics, whereby one grand debate determines the course of the campaign. This has happened exactly once in the author’s lifetime. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter and Governor Ronald Reagan held their one and only debate just a week before the election. Polls were tight but generally showed Carter with a steady lead. Carter rambled and stumbled, but Reagan came prepared, slicing and dicing Carter’s record on the Iranian Hostage Crisis, negotiations with the Soviets, stagflation, and the oil shocks. Reagan asked the nation then enduring 20% inflation rates a simple, devastating question, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ Carter had no answer and Reagan won in a landslide.
Candidates who prepare for presidential debates as if they’re appearing before a high school debating society and need only make the right points inevitably lose those debates. Usually, presidential debates come down to a candidate’s bearing and temperament. In the 2000 presidential debates, Texas Governor George W. Bush looked reasonably competent and committed no gaffes, and Vice President Al Gore won the debates by any measure except one. Gore came off looking like a smug, know it all bully. In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney beat President Obama on points, but all anyone remembered was his ‘binders full of women’ quip. In 2016 Hillary Clinton may have been better prepared for the debates with facts and ideas, but Trump stole the stage by bringing along the women Hillary’s husband assaulted and telling her simply, brutally, ‘You’d be in jail.’ Trump’s win was no fluke. During the Republican primary, Trump showed great comedic timing and an uncanny ability to sniff out weakness. He made mincemeat of the best slate of candidates the GOP had offered in generations. Trump branded each challenger. Senator Marco Rubio had small hands, Senator Ted Cruz became Lyin’ Ted, and Jeb Bush, whom Trump relentlessly hammered in the debates was ‘low energy.’
Which brings us to the first Trump vs Biden debate. Early in the day, someone (almost certainly with the Trump campaign) leaked details of the debate negotiations. Trump insisted that Biden take a drug test to confirm he wasn’t taking drugs for cognitive issues and wanted Biden to submit his hearing aids for inspection to ensure campaign staffers wouldn’t feed him answers. For their part, the Biden campaign asked for breaks every thirty minutes, which played into Trump’s narrative that Biden is old and senile and unfit for the presidency. By the afternoon rumors swirled that Fox News leaked the debate questions to Biden. Trump’s campaign published a series of talking points which they said would be the focus of his attacks on Biden. All this appeared to be an effort at misdirection and information warfare.
Last night the candidates debated a wide range of issues from the Supreme Court, the Wuhan Virus, the Economy, race, law and order, and the candidates’ record. President Trump was his typical self, confident and combative. Again and again, Trump attacked Biden’s son Hunter for his shady business connections with Russia, Ukraine and China and kept bringing up the 3.5 million dollar payment Hunter received from Moscow. Trump could have better defended his record on the Wuhan Virus. His answers on the environment and the California wildfires were surprisingly good. He insisted on protecting consumers and the economy first. Trump was very critical of state forest management
Joe Biden looked old, stammered a bit, had an annoying chuckle and lost his temper a few times. He had a habit of mumbling and shaking his head and grinning as Trump talked. But Biden didn’t really commit any gaffes and was prepared with ideas and info. He looked strongest at the end encouraging people to vote.
Debate moderator Chris Wallace ran interference for Biden deferred to him and constantly interrupted Trump. Trump was debating Wallace as well.
This observer declares a draw. As noted above we won’t know the true impact for several days. Until then no candidate hurt himself.
Contributed by William Stroock, author of military fiction, commentator