by James Billot
Friday, 23
October 2020
Event
09:51

Was Donald Trump saying goodbye?

The much-discussed mute button wasn't needed at the final Presidential debate
by James Billot
A muted Donald. Credit: Getty

Perhaps it had a deterrent effect, but the much-discussed mute button was rarely used at last night’s presidential debate. Donald Trump was far more cordial — even gracious — this time round, largely honouring the time limits and even thanking the host for inviting him to speak.

There were, of course, flashes of the old Trump, interrupting Biden when it came to Hunter Biden and the “China plague”. At other points, he reeled himself in just in time, like a footballer on a yellow card pleading for penance after a dubious tackle. But by and large, the President avoided getting himself into trouble. In fact, he was so restrained that, for the first 30 minutes, Trump came across as decidedly flat.

Worse still, he looked rehearsed. Trump, who has always been good off the cuff, seemed to lose faith in his own ability. In one response, he wavered and lost track of one of his own points in Biden-esque style:

All he talks about is shutdowns — no, we’re not going to shutdown and we have to open our schools. And it’s like — I have an example: I have a young son — he also tested positive. By the time I spoke to the doctor the second time he was fine. It just went away. Young people. I guess it’s their immune system —
- Donald Trump

At which point the host interrupted.

But gradually, he started to warm up. Without doubt his best moment came 45 minutes in, reminding viewers of what made Trump so popular in 2016, when he presented himself as the anti-politician to Biden’s beltway man. On the question of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine and China, Joe “No More Malarkey” Biden barely addressed it. Instead, he turned to face the camera, saying that he wanted to talk to you, the American people, about how much your family was suffering. To which Trump responded:

That’s a typical political statement. Let’s get off this China thing and then he looks “the family, around the table”. Just a typical politician when I see that. I’m not a typical politician. That’s why I got elected. Let’s get off the subject of China and let’s talk about sitting around the table. Come on Joe, you can do better than that.
- Donald Trump

For the first time, Biden looked rattled. This was the Trump, who, instead of harping on about the radical Left and the China plague for the sixteenth time, was taking on the establishment. He was the odd one out, and as in 2016, the gatekeepers wanted to punish him for it. Later he returned to this line, calling Biden a “corrupt politician”:

Why didn’t he do it four years ago? Why didn’t you do that four years ago? You keep talking about all these things you’re gonna do, but you were there just a short time ago and you guys did nothing. Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would have never run, I would have never run. I ran because of you. I’m looking at you now because you’re a politician. I ran because of you.
- Donald Trump

Biden, on the other hand, looked increasingly tired as the debate progressed. By the hour mark, it was probably past his bed time and it showed. Furtively looking down at his notes, he started to lose some of the conviction that had come across so strongly before, and labelled the ‘Proud boys’ the ‘Poor boys’ when he tried to link the President to the organisation.

But perhaps his biggest gaffe — and one that was met with a stunned silence (including by Trump) was a question about criminal justice reform. Donald Trump asked: “Why didn’t you get it done? You had eight years with Obama. You know why Joe? Because you’re all talk and no action.” Biden’s response? “Because there was a Republican Congress”. This from the man who prides himself on bringing both sides of the aisle together. Trump simply said, after a long pause, “you gotta talk to them Joe”.

These moments of life, however, were few and far between; this meek Trump seemed to be going through the motions, and at times it felt valedictory.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘Biden’s response? “Because there was a Republican Congress”.’

For the first two years of Obama’s first there was a Democrat Congress. Obama could have done a lot. He did nothing except bail out the banks and lay waste to Libya. A total fraud.

Ian Thompson
Ian Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

And for first two years R had Congress with Trump, and they UTTERLY FAILED to do things for the American people. (I blame the RINO Congress for that one, and hence it flipped D in 2018).

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

Trump is capable of graciousness – see his concession speech on losing in New Hampshire in the 2016 primaries. In the first debate he probably realised that he had overdone the attack dog stuff, and this time he needed to look presidential. Helped by Joe tiring so much towards the end

Lucy Smex
Lucy Smex
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Trump may have already been feeling tired or unwell at the first debate, which could have affected his performance.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

The headline bears no relation to the rest of the piece. What is this, the Guardian? I suppose it is suggesting the Trump might lose, and of course he might. But the granular analysis of early voting results in swing states – at least those that I am hearing about – suggests that Trump is ahead of where he was at this stage in 2016. In other words Biden is up, but not by as much as Hillary was at this stage, with most of the Trump voters yet to cast their ballot. And in Ohio Trump is already up, and whoever wins Ohio has won the Presidency for the umpteen last elections.

Crucially, Biden stated that he wants to ‘phase out’ the oil industry. Well, good luck winning Texas with the policy (Trump is already well ahead in Texas, anyway, apparently). And Trump has been reminding the good people of Pennsylvania that Biden/Harris want to end fracking, with supports countless jobs in that very key state.

The balance of US commentary that I’ve seen and read on last night’s debate gave it to Trump, as did some panels of independent voters. Meanwhile, Trump rallies attract tens of thousands while Biden events literally attract no more than about 15 people, most of them Biden staffers.

ard10027
ard10027
1 year ago

Trump learns fast. Remember, he’s not a career politician dedicated to, well, career, like Biden. He’s already rich, so he doesn’t have to milk the taxpayer. He doesn’t have to be afraid of losing office because he’s got a life to go back to. Because of all this, he has never behaved like the kind of politician journalists are used to covering. He doesn’t fit the template distributed to baby reporters in journalist college, so when he does anything which looks remotely like what a “normal” politician does, it’s tempting to fit the behaviour to the template.

In fact, Trump HAS been behaving more soberly (at least for him) over the past year or so as he has got fuller control of the levers of the American state. BECAUSE he learns fast (and “fast” is a relative concept in the treacle that is the Washington self-advancement factory), he changes fast. Where more sober behaviour gets results, he’ll rein himself in and GET those results, like the businessman he his. It doesn’t mean he’s losing interest. If anything, quite the reverse. He’s just getting into a more measured and determine stride.

Trump’s strength and his great weakness have always been the same – he shocks people. That’s good, because while they’re in that state, he can roll over them (and many of them need to be rolled over). But it’s also bad because it prevents them thinking clearly and rationally where he is concerned. When they begin to function again after the initial shock, they are driven by a maniacal hatred of the man which prevents them giving credit where it is due under any circumstances, and that includes journalists. If he turned water into wine, they would claim he had a drink problem, so a more subdued Donald J Trump was never going to get any credit from them for being statesmanlike.

But he MIGHT just get it from swing voters who are still capable of cold judgement.

Dave H
Dave H
1 year ago

He called Abraham Lincoln “one of the most racist presidents in modern history. He pours fuel on every single racist fire ” every single one,”

I’m seeing reported elsewhere that he said that about Trump, not Lincoln. It doesn’t even make sense if it’s about Lincoln, who is long dead and isn’t pouring fuel on anything these days.

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave H

Yes, that does cast doubt on the rest of the analysis.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave H

I thought he called Trump ‘Abraham Lincoln’ sarcastically. Then the following remarks were obviously referring to Trump.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago

He did. He was either trying to be sarcastic, or perhaps genuinely confused!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave H

Biden has made far more racist statements over the years than Trump. And quite recently he attended the funeral of, and eulogised, a sometime member of the KKK. The good news is that (young) black Americans have been doing their research and learning this stuff for themselves. Consequently, perhaps 25% of them are going to vote for Trump. Older black Americans are still struggling to get off the Democrat plantation.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Dave H

It doesn’t make sense either way, which is consistent with Joe.

George Herman
George Herman
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Actually, this was a rare bit of improvised wit from Biden. Trump earlier had repeated the claim that he’d done more for blacks than Abraham Lincoln. So Biden’s retort that “Abraham Lincoln” here is the most racist president…….etc., was a great jab, and uncharacteristically good for Biden. Ironic that he doesn’t seem to be getting credit for it. Maybe it’s just me, but I got it right away.

Ian Thompson
Ian Thompson
1 year ago

Trump did well, but missed many scoring opportunities, again repeating stupid references like the “small windows” reference to Green New Deal (that is the LEAST of our worries from Joe’s GND!) Despite all the scientific truth that CO2 is, indeed, plant food, Trump again let Biden scare people with another “10 years to doom” statement reminiscent of Al Gore. Dude, your EPA could have given you easy counter-references to the CO2 deception that has played out for 20 years (and NYC is still dry).

While Trump did well on this debate, he should have made all these measured statements 2 months ago… not 2 weeks before election. It’s a toss up at this point, but I think Trump could have safely defeated Gaffer Joe had he just performed well at Debate 1. That first debate was VERY damaging. Too little too late. Now we enter electioneering battle since we KNOW that many states have compromised election integrity by mailing unsolicited ballots, poor polling machine security, fake collection points, and bags of ballots in trash.

Trump could have shut down Biden on the “Immigration cages” issue by pointing out that the parents of the 525 were “released” and never returned for their children, an obvious failure of the dumb “catch and release” program that was initiated under O-Biden. Those parents know where their “kids” are, so they were either using them to gain entry (as the President stated) or the parents left them in the proverbial basket at the church door (having faith that US would give them a good life).

ard10027
ard10027
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Thompson

The Green New Deal the least of your worries? Seriously?

Ian Thompson
Ian Thompson
1 year ago
Reply to  ard10027

Clarification. The windows; they are minutia compared to the GND (which Trump needed to better refute with scientific facts). The GND is socialism under a guise of “environmental protection”… and does absolutely nothing to actually protect the environment. But it will make everyone a carbon slave!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

Trump avoided the trap of helping his opponent when the opponent was floundering. Biden unplugged is the last thing the left wants to see. It’s why you never hear any affirmative push for him as a candidate, only opposition to Trump.

Biden’s response? “Because there was a Republican Congress”.
Which was a remarkable piece of fiction. Dems had both houses in Obama’s first two years, there was a split Congress for the next four, and GOPer majorities the last two. Besides that, Joey’s boss had told us that he wasn’t the president of blue America or red America, but all America. But that was before he told the other side to “win some elections” if they didn’t like it. So, they did.

Laura Robertson
Laura Robertson
1 year ago

I hope not he is the only one standing up for Great Barrington. Above all other issues this is the most important fight we have on our hands at the moment. I prioritise the mandate written out in the GBD more than any other issue in western society at the moment. Above climate change, discrimination and political unrest.

p web
p web
1 year ago

My take is that Trump wanted to appear presidential rather than a Bully. He anticipated that Biden would appear weak and frail and he didnt want to come across as too aggressive, otherwise it might backfire with the sympathy vote.
The emails in the view of the trump camp are going to be enough to win, so better to appear gracious to the undecided voters in the middle. Biden didnt do well, but he didnt do too badly – could have been much worse; Perhaps a more aggressive Trump might have brought this out more.

Jack Gergiev
Jack Gergiev
1 year ago
Reply to  p web

What emails?

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
1 year ago
Reply to  p web

I suspect Trump looked at polling and finally let his advisors, advise. He listened. His ego seems to insist he is always right and has served him well but he often fails in actually saying things that support his cause. In this debate he was sober as if restraining his urge to attack. This time his attacks were not generalized but specific and got results. Might be too late given that so many have voted.

jmc31367
jmc31367
1 year ago

In the first debate, many were calling Trump a bully. So knowing his mic can and will be muted and with the topics changed, he behaves himself in the second debate, says on point and now you think he’s meek? Seriously….

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago

Trump was much better than Biden, who is clearly suffering from dementia and if elected will be unable to complete his term. It is strange that there is so much attention paid to Trump’s tax records and so little to Biden’s health records. His Hitler reference shows how out of touch he is. Does he still know which country’s fate was sealed at Munich in 1938? Does he still know what country Hitler invaded in 1939? The Hitler invading “_Europe_the rest of Europe” comment left one wondering. Does he really think the US government had cordial relations with Hitler before the Second World War started? It makes one wonder if he knows who was the American president then. What is a man like this doing as the Democratic Party candidate?
No-one seems to have taken umbrage at Biden’s fraudulent claim that “we make up only 25% of the world’s economy”, made, oddly enough, in arguing that America needs the co-operation of its allies. While the US is about a quarter of the world economy based on exchange-rate adjusted estimates of GDP, it has only 16.0% of the world economy in 2020 using IMF estimates of GDP on a purchasing power parity basis, as opposed to 18.6% for the People’s Republic of China. This is the more useful way of looking at relative country shares of economic output, as the exchange-rate adjusted estimates are biased against lower-wage countries like China in favour of higher-wage countries like the United States. Trump missed a chance to correct Biden’s error. Trump might also have pointed out that the US lost its number 1 status to China on the Obama-Biden administration’s watch, in 2014. It’s not surprising really. Unfortunately, Trump is a businessman, not an economist. But where are all those nauseating debate factcheckers when they are really needed?

David
David
1 year ago

He looked rehearsed. Precisely: his first ‘debate’ was meant to fire up his base, and he did it in great ‘style’. However, his second appearance was designed to show he could be the candidate for undecided voters. He’s no fool.