“In general, I avoid temptation,” said actress Mae West, “unless I can’t resist.”
During last night’s second and final presidential debate, looking at Donald Trump’s face, my mind turned to this wonderful quote several times.
Time and again I found him itchy to take off the gloves and take insulting and personal rage against his opponent Joe Biden, as he had in the first debate.
But to my surprise, instead of giving in to his lowest instincts, Trump pursed his lips, pursed his cheeks, grimaced, frowned, and for the most part avoided temptation.
Instead of the raging, misguided, narcissistic buffoon we got last time, this was a much calmer, measured, focused, well-prepared, non-scary, and even empathetic act from the president.
Time and again I saw Donald Trump itching to take off the gloves and scolding and personally ranting against his opponent Joe Biden, as he had in the first debate. Trump is portrayed on Thursday during the latest presidential debate
We saw a new, tamer Trump and I liked it as much as I was surprised by it.
Top political pollster Frank Luntz, who led a live-streamed response to the debate with undecided swing states voters, tweeted afterwards: “ The words of my focus group to describe Trump tonight: ‘Checked,’ ‘Reserved,’ ‘Done,’ ‘ Con artist ‘,’ Surprisingly Presidential ‘.
The same group, he added, used the words “Vague,” “Nonspecific,” “Elusive,” “Defensive,” and “Grandpa” to describe Biden’s achievement.
But it was a specific exchange between Washington Post reporter Marc Fisher and the ‘character’ group that really caught my eye.
Luntz, a Republican, tweeted, “They say Joe Biden is a more decent person, but they are opting more for Trump’s policies and the way it affects their daily lives.”
There, right there, is the real problem.
If this election is purely about who is a nicer man, Biden is a clear unmistakable winner.
If this election is purely about who is a nicer man, Biden is a clear unmistakable winner. Biden is depicted in the debate
As my wife said as we watched the debate, “There’s just something really nice about him.”
That’s true, there is.
But right now I’m not sure if most Americans really care about having a nice president, they just want someone to get them out of this hellish mess.
I thought Biden had a good debate, especially by his standards.
He was almost blunder, didn’t stumble too much, and was at his best when he showed genuine anger and passion at the horrific coronavirus death toll in America and the devastation it has wreaked on so many families. Biden’s own experience of personal tragedy gives him a deep and very authentic empathy valve that cannot be crafted. He knows what it means to suffer real loss and it showed.
He is also a longtime official with 50 years of political experience who presents himself as the antidote to Trump’s controversy-driven presidency, the “healer” to heal America’s current state of chaos.
In that regard, Biden did not abandon herself.
It was a solid performance.
But he also didn’t say anything refreshing new shouting ‘VOTE FOR ME!’
He was more like a 90-minute message of ‘DON’T VOTE TRUMP!’
And that message – which is very similar to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 failed strategy – barely reached the decibel level worthy of capital letters.
It’s not Biden’s fault as he is nearly 80, but he has half the energy, dynamism and vision of Barack Obama and that’s a problem compared to Trump who, either loves or hates him, is always bursting with charismatic vitality.
The president may be a polarizing, inflammatory man with hardly any public service experience.
But he skilfully used that apparent weakness as a strength – repeatedly berating Biden for not doing the things he now promises to do in the areas of health care and immigration during his eight years as vice president.
“You keep talking about all these things you’re going to do,” Trump sneered. ‘Why didn’t you do it? All talk and no action, just like a politician. ‘
It’s a good point, so much so that at one point, Biden even threw Obama under the bus about why he hadn’t done more to tackle immigration, exclaiming, ‘It took too long to get it right, I’m going to be president of the United States, not the vice president. ‘
This debate, unlike the last non-founding fiasco, was quite a debate, superbly moderated by NBC’s excellent Kristen Welker, who was so honest, determined and authoritative that Trump even paid tribute to her, saying, ‘I respect the way you deal . this one.’
We were told what the two candidates really think on some pivotal issues, and Trump was much more effective in keeping his infamous temper fused.
Even with regard to the coronavirus, he managed to divert the debate from his bitter failures by blaming China and blaming himself as the only man reviving the broken economy and also driving it before the pandemic.
I have been as critical as anyone about the president’s sad handling of the crisis.
But there’s no question that the longer it takes, the more desperate many Americans will become to save both their livelihood and lives.
And that’s why Trump’s claim that America must “ learn to live with it ” regarding Covid-19 and that too draconian a lockdown – which Biden supports as a key weapon to contain the virus – could cause “ the remedy will be worse than the problem itself ”will have caught on with many viewers.
They may prefer Biden’s character and think he will better protect them from the deadly virus – as he replied to Trump, ‘We’re learning to live with it? People learn to die with it! – but I suspect more of them would support Trump to restore their jobs than the Democratic challenger.
And Trump threw just enough mud on the ongoing scandal of his son Hunter’s untrustworthy dealings with foreign companies in Ukraine, Russia and China to defeat the Biden halo.
The challenger’s conclusion that it was a non-story driven by Russian disinformation propaganda sounded hollow, and he still has important questions to answer about the New York Post’s explosive revelations about Hunter’s laptop and emails.
He also handed over a campaign gift to Republicans saying he would ‘switch from the oil industry’ to renewable energy.
As Trump quickly replied, ‘He’s going to destroy the oil industry. Do you remember Texas? Do you remember Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio? ‘
So overall, I thought the president was acting just as well as he has in any previous debate.
For once, he seemed to heed the advice of his advisors to tone down the toxic rhetoric.
But his pivot to a more ‘presidential’ style last night begs the question: why on earth didn’t he do this earlier in a year when America has been left behind by the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd?
It may be too late for Trump to save his presidency.
The polls certainly indicate that he lost on Nov. 3, possibly very badly.
But the polls were all wrong in 2016 and could get out of hand again, is the unpredictability of Trump’s silent backing.
He has ten days to turn things around, which is a long time in his world.
And his performance last night has given him an unexpected new springboard to rescue a shocking victory from the clutches of a seemingly inevitable defeat.
Donald Trump won last night’s debate.
Not by beating Joe Biden … but by beating himself.
And with that, he may have just blown this race open again.
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