We All Misplaced – The New York Instances

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There was a clear loser in last night’s debate: you.

Yes, you, the American voter.

Presidential debates tend to be sober affairs centered on politics and biography, legislation and plans for the future. This debate was a hot mess. On fire. In a garbage can.

When I watched it last night, I was disgusted and depressed at the same time. Two septuagenarian men with little self-control, moderated by another septuagenarian man who is unable to impose any kind of propriety or even basic agreement about the rules.

In a strange twist, it was Joe Biden who made up for most of the insults. He called President Trump a “fool”, “liar”, “clown”, “racist”, “Putin’s puppy” and “the worst president America ever had”. Oh, and he told him to shut up – words I suspect have never been spoken in a President debate.

Still, he was far surpassed by Mr. Trump. The President did not seem able to pass a moment without a rude interruption that sparked falsehoods and deeply personal attacks. CNN called it an “avalanche of lies”. Our fact checkers had their own mountain to climb.

Mr. Trump refused to condemn white supremacists but almost seemed to encourage them. “Proud guys, stand back and stand by,” he said, apparently turning to the far-right group that advocated violence. (Members of the Proud Boys interpreted the remark as tacit confirmation.)

He spread misinformation about the voting by mail and expressed his false story that the process had been manipulated on the biggest stage yet. (Democrats are requesting far more postal ballot papers in several key states, causing some Republican strategists to worry that Mr Trump will scare off his own supporters.)

And he mocked Mr. Biden for wearing a face mask, an argument that in most places is unrelated to scientific fact, public opinion, and lived reality.

None of this is surprising: Mr Trump has had a career in disinformation and reality show brawling. But his strategy for this debate was mystifying from the start.

As has been the case for months, state and national polls show that Mr. Trump is behind in this race. The debate was one of his few remaining ways to change that dynamic. While he dominated the night, it’s hard to see the feat win over many undecided voters, regardless of whether he brings back parts of his 2016 coalition that left him.

At times, Mr. Trump interrupted so much in hopes of throwing Mr. Biden off that it was difficult to tell what point the president was aiming for.

When Mr Biden refused to endorse some policies popular among progressives, such as the packing of the Supreme Court and the entry into force of the Green New Deal, the president claimed that Mr Biden had “just lost the left” – which could contribute to the case of the former vice president to moderate voters that he is not too liberal.

When Mr Trump followed up on Mr Biden’s son Hunter, who was released from the Navy Reserve in 2014 after testing positive for cocaine, he opened up an opportunity for the Democratic candidate to make a passionate appeal direct to the camera for both families and military personnel struggling with addiction – a relatable problem in a country still grappling with an opioid crisis.

In the coronavirus pandemic, an area where he gets some of his worst grades from voters, Mr Trump couldn’t address his mismanagement of the crisis. Instead, he bet that Mr Biden’s voters would be more put off if he said he would close things again if health officials recommended it. In several polls, most voters have said that the government should prioritize public health over keeping the economy open.

Updated

Sept. 30, 2020, 1:42 p.m. ET

And I don’t think anyone ended the evening with an idea of ​​what Mr. Trump would do with a second term other than attacking his opponents.

Perhaps the last segment of the debate was the most edifying. When asked by Chris Wallace, the moderator, if he would commit to accepting the election results, Mr Trump declined.

Instead, he insisted that the most likely outcome was a “fraudulent choice”.

These are not the words of a candidate who believes he is on his way to victory.

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