The last debate of the 2020 American Presidential election took place in Nashville last night and it is difficult to see that it might have been a game changer. It was moderated by Kristen Welker who was reasonably moderate for the want of a better word, and the format allowing uninterrupted sequences of responses worked pretty well.
At the end of a week in which Biden had avoided media exposure and the intelligence services had issued a warning regarding Iranian and Russian attempts to damage the Trump campaign, it was seen as the last chance for the President to perhaps turn things decisively around.
It did not quite happen in that way, and the Democrats obviously believe that if they are ahead in the polls then it is their’s to lose, so the optimum strategy for the remaining ten days is to avoid engagement. They can also rely on a largely compliant traditional media and social media to assist them in that endeavour.
Trump did manage to introduce the facts as they are known regarding Hunter Biden’s financial dealings which he claimed compromise his father, but one wonders what wider traction this is getting given the mostly successful attempts to keep it out of the news. Biden was clearly uncomfortable with it and his attempts to claim that foreign interference is designed to assist the President were weak.
The debate began with a lengthy section about Covid which is always going to be a loser for any party which has been in power over the past nine months. Biden’s constant blaming of the impact of the virus on the Trump administration are crude but then so is much of the content of the campaign, and lots of people just hear what they want to hear.
One wonders too what subliminal impact Trump’s recovery to full vigour after himself contracting the virus will have. In a growing climate of fear – as we know only too well from the Irish experience – Trump is a prominent example that the virus is not the awful plague that we have been led to believe. People need hope and practical indications that there is a way through it all by embracing the challenges of life, rather than hiding from them in the basement. Maybe that contrast is the key one to merge from its centrality to the American elections.
Where Trump may have scored and made some difference to the outcome was when he focused on Biden’s laughable claim to be about to perform all sorts of wonders in the twilight of his years that he never got around to in almost a half century in the Washington swamp.
And whatever the overall polls might be suggesting, Trump did better in reaching out to voters in key states where Biden’s waffle about climate change and his completely contradictory positions on fracking will perhaps yet swing crucial states like Pennsylvania Trump’s way.
We are all used to the pie in the sky citing of targets for achieving zero carbon emissions, and even Biden seemed to have forgotten the script when he made the ludicrous claim that he would achieve this by 2025. Five years away. Most damaging of all, however, was his final reference to “transitioning” away from oil production and its replacement by renewable energies. All nonsense as we know from our own experience with the Green Party but to state so openly is regarded by most of the media as akin to informing the under -ten camogie team that there is no Santy.
All Trump had to do was repeat this, and look into the camera while for once Biden’s Jimmy Stewart impression let him down and his eyes fell to the floor. Perhaps Mr. Smith might not be going to Washington after all.
And therein lies the rub. Biden has been portraying himself as some Frank Capra character who is perhaps naively but honestly going to take on the machine on behalf of all the working stiffs out there in one of the several working class factory neighbourhoods he grew up in as a paper boy shovelling snow off the neighbours’ paths.
He is a fraud. Literally maybe if even half of what is emerging from his son’s downfall is true. But apart from his having grown to be an extremely wealthy man on a public representative’s salary for 47 years, he has been lobby fodder and apologist for successive Democratic Presidents and Senates doing all the sorts of things that he now claims to be about “to fix.”
Trump on the other hand is a vastly wealthy man from outside of the swamp. It might seem slightly ludicrous to some that a billionaire is claiming to be the champion of John and Jane Doe but that is the perception among many millions of Americans and he reverted last night to the default outsider position that helped him to beat the execrable Hillary of the same crew to which Biden belongs.
He several times asserted that he is not a politician and that he has achieved more than Biden has in all those years as a relatively minor figure. Indeed a combination of Trump’s image – both self projected and shared widely – in contrast to Biden’s lifelong service to the Man and his persona which increasingly suggests that he will not be the Man even if he does win, might be the crucial factor again, as it was in 2016.
Biden referred to the “existential threat” of climate change. Risible stuff really but it plays to the woke gallery which is possibly straining to rein in even its own instinctive inner knowledge that Biden is about as radical as the Chairperson of a Cotswold Conservative Association. Their hatred of Trump and of middle America will of course top any of that.
Where Trump appeals is to a sense that some idea of America is under threat, and that he is the imperfect vehicle for preventing it ultimately destroying America. It is a perception not exclusive to Americans of course and has created a new form of politics that cuts across many of the old fault lines.
On November 3, the latest battle in that war will be decided but it will not be the end of it, no matter what the outcome.