Trump and Biden slug it out in rowdy debate

Paddy Power, or to be exact Paddy Power punters thought that Biden won the first debate. Odds on him were shortened to 4/6 in the immediate aftermath. Hey, it’s as good a predictor as any as to what is likely to happen although they were completely wrong in 2016 when PP paid out on Hilary at 1/3 weeks before the election.


I was watching Newsmax as an alternative to having to cope with either BBC or CNN. It is a conservative broadcaster but not in the shrill, relentless manner that CNN is in the other direction. The general consensus was that Biden had done better than expected.
Indeed, that thought had struck me before-hand, as it seems to have done others. Given how much effort the Trump campaign has invested in the ‘Sleepy Joe’ borderline dementia angle, barring Biden falling asleep or starting to sing the Crosby Stills Nash and Young classic ‘Teach Your Children Well’ when asked about his boy Hunter, he was always going to exceed expectations.

My impression was that Trump did way too much interrupting and heckling. I have no doubt that this was one of things that worked to Sinn Féin’s favour in January when watching Mary Lou being hectored by two big men. It doesn’t look good no matter who the other person is or indeed the substance of the interruption.  Trump’s best patches were when he put Biden on the spot and let him waffle, or just stayed schtum when the Democrat struggled with issues like law and order.

I thought the President generally did well on Covid and anything to do with the economy recovering in the midst of it all, and contrasting that to those who favour greater restrictions to opening the country up again. It has become almost an article of faith, and the sharp divisions already formed are probably unlikely to shift either way.

Moderator Chris Wallace threw a curve ball with the question about Trump’s tax, but he handled it well and it has obviously not become the game changer the Democrats hoped it might be. Trump’s best contribution was with race; when he rubbished the ideological enforcement of sensitivity training and racial theory mumbo jumbo. It was the same when he attacked the Democrats over the violence and crime generally in the cities they control.

He allowed Biden to ramble at that point and it was effective as Biden was clearly uncomfortable with the protests and stated that he was not in favour of defunding the police. He tried to pitch to the left with waffle about “reimagining policing” but it will be interesting to see what the reaction will be to his stance, as it separates his campaign from Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

Now, that might have been one of Trump’s objectives, but as one of the commentators on Newsmax pointed out, Biden needs to win states which went with Trump in 2016 and where the violence associated with the protests has alienated many people who would be otherwise inclined towards the Democrats judging by most elections over the past three decades.

Does Biden then run the danger of falling between two stools? On the one hand annoying the radicals, but on the other not going far enough in condemning violence and supporting the cops. You may be certain this will be explored by the Trump campaign over the next few weeks, and will become the focus of the next debates if they can. Indeed, Harris might be more vulnerable to being exposed on all of this than Biden.

Trump’s major gaffe was not being more succinct regarding white supremacists. It is true that the violence has been the creature of the left, but he should have said it anyway, even if Biden’s ridiculous charge that Trump is a racist, and waffling about “dog whistles” and indeed calling Trump a clown and a liar will hardly have swayed the so far undecided.

Perhaps the most significant part of the debate and the one that might damage Biden among the Democrat left was where he disowned the Green New Deal. Yes, the same one featured on Biden’s campaign website. All of that is central to a large number of Democrats and might dampen some of the enthusiasm among his campaign workers.

Trump did well in pointing out that the massive fires in California and other western coastal states are in large part the consequence of poor woodland management. And also in rubbishing the Paris Accords onus on the United States and Europe while allowing totally contradictory targets for China, Russia and India.

The exchanges became even more acrimonious when both candidates attacked each other’s family – which is never a good thing, despite the rather unsavoury record of Biden’s son Hunter and his finances. Trump even referred to his cocaine habit which forced Biden to refer to his having been in rehab.

Certainly it was well beyond what Irish political animals would be used to seeing during the course of a “heated political debate.” Don’t expect it to get any more civil. I suspect that over the next four weeks we will see a lot of pent up hatred for the want of a better word emerging.

Someone afterwards referred to the relatively friendly relationship between Trump and Hilary Clinton even when they were ripping shreds off one another, and even for a short time when they appeared in the same place after the 2016 contest. It is difficult to imagine anything like that between the current protagonists. Trump certainly does not deploy anything in the way of charm or humour in his assaults on Biden.

That will certainly not be encouraged by issues surrounding Wallace’s last question regarding the integrity of the election. There is no doubt that the Republicans are genuinely concerned about voter fraud and some of the seemingly verifiable stories regarding dumped ballots and yesterday’s refusal to allow Trump campaign workers to  act as observers in Pennsylvania are indeed worrying.

So too is the growing acceptance that the election will not be cut and dried by November 4, even should one candidate appear to have a commanding lead. They will be counting votes for a period afterwards, and it will be a surprise if one or other side does not end up disputing individual states, or perhaps the overall outcome.

Trump’s point regarding unsolicited ballots is a strong one. It is patently open to abuse and for Biden to compare it to mail in ballots for military posted abroad is a red herring. You should have a very good reason not to cast your ballot in person and to have to prove your identity. Indeed we saw here in northern elections prior to the last one, a strange spike in the number of postal votes in certain constituencies.

Nixon felt – some would argue knew – he had been defrauded of victory by the Kennedys and their shady sidekicks in 1960, But he kept publicly quiet about it.

This one will not end quietly one suspects…

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