Watching the final presidential debate, I couldn’t get Jane Coaston’s latest piece out of my head: Donald Trump is extremely online and his campaign only makes sense if you, too, are extremely online.
Which is to say that if you read Breitbart every day, and have Conservative Treehouse bookmarked, and scroll through Facebook MAGA groups whenever you have a spare 30 seconds—then you probably thought that Trump’s performance in Nashville was brilliant.
He didn’t shout! He didn’t interrupt! It was a New ToneTM!
And most important—from the perspective of the extremely online—Trump was disciplined and focused. He hit Joe Biden over and over about Burisma and the mayor of Moscow and China and millions of dollars for this guy and billions of dollars for that guy and was such a surgeon that he didn’t even say “Hunter.” Instead, he said “your son” to hammer home how corrupt the Biden family is.
And if you’re not extremely online?
Then you spent the first 30 minutes of the debate thinking, What the fork is this guy talking about?
I don’t know how you’re supposed to score this debate.
Donald Trump talked about all of the Hunter Biden conspiracy theory stuff. He lied, constantly, about almost everything. I just want to give you a flavor, because it started with literally his first sentence.
Trump claimed that the projections for COVID deaths in America were 2.2 million dead, so the 220,000 dead so far show how well he’s handled the pandemic.
Trump claimed that it was Anthony Fauci who said COVID would just “go away.”
Trump claimed Biden has houses all over the world.
Trump claimed that the bailout package for American farmers was paid for by China.
Trump claimed that Obama wanted to meet with Kim Jong-un, but that Kim refused to meet with him.
These are just a thimbleful of the lies—and I’m not even talking about the normal political lies, like Trump’s dubious insistence that Biden secretly, in his heart of hearts, wants to eliminate private health insurance.
And he said stuff that was laugh-out-loud ridiculous. I mean, honestly, which of these is funnier? Trump insisting that he never said that he takes no responsibility for what has happened with COVID:
Or Trump saying—twice!—“I am the least racist person in this room.”
But on the other hand, here is a list of things Donald Trump didn’t do:
- Praise the Proud Boys
- Defend QAnon
- Call scientists idiots
- Interrupt Biden and the moderator 71 times
By the standards of the Trump presidency, this is a win? I’m Ron Burgundy?
As for Biden, it’s hard to know what to say about his performance, too.
Biden waged an actual political debate. He held to the minimal standards of truth that are common to debates. He tried to talk about issues that—if you believe the polls—voters say matter to them: health care and the coronavirus.
There were sections where Biden was crisp and sections where he was wobbly. He was sluggish in the last 30 minutes. So if you believe that a lot of undecided voters were making up their minds based on a discussion of climate change in the last 30 minutes of the final debate on October 22, then maybe that was a problem.
So who won? Writing immediately after the first debate, I thought that it had basically been a Rorschach test: Trump lovers loved it and Trump haters hated it. But I was wrong. All of the polling showed that the debate was a disaster for Trump.
Looking at this debate in the first flush it strikes me the same way: a Rorschach test.
I have no doubt that Trump’s collaborators are going to use this debate as the reed on which to hang their comeback story. “It was his big moment! He was so disciplined! He prosecuted the Hunter Biden case!”
Biden’s people will say, not unreasonably, that he was sharper tonight than he was in the first debate.
But if we’re headed to more than 144 million votes being cast, then none of it will matter. Because the race is already over.