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US Election 2020
Home / Opinion / Donald Trump in attack mode, but fails to dent Joe Biden | Opinion

Donald Trump in attack mode, but fails to dent Joe Biden | Opinion

Trump, who dominated the debate in the worst possible way, declined to disavow white supremacists who have been the main source of bloodshed at the anti-racist protests and riots still taking place across the US.

opinion Updated: Sep 30, 2020, 15:10 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
President Donald Trump argues with debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
President Donald Trump argues with debate moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News Channel during the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. (REUTERS)

United States (US) President Donald Trump had a choice when he went into this election’s televised presidential debate: Woo the undecideds or woo his base. He decided to do the latter, resulting in the most acrimonious and bad-tempered such debate in US history. The initial run of instant polling, focus groups and commentary give Democratic candidate Joe Biden a slight edge among watchers. But the 30 to 40% who said they felt Trump was the winner indicate his followers liked his tough guy act.

Trump deliberately sought to throw off the Democratic Party hopeful with constant interruptions, attacks on his family members and a stream of non-facts about his opponent’s record. The Republicans have sought to portray Biden as too forgetful and doddering to be serve in the White House. Biden is 77, Trump just three years younger. On this point Trump failed. Biden rolled with the punches. A number of undecided voters in focus groups said they didn’t buy Trump’s talk of “Sleepy Joe” any more. Biden’s campaign netted $3.8 million during the debate, a record one-hour haul for him.

Trump’s second line of attack was to paint Biden socialist red. He has long claimed the Democratic Party’s support for full healthcare, green energy and welfare would herald the beginning of “socialism” in the US. Biden was not vigorous in his defence, perhaps because he fears alienating the leftwing of his party – which backs many of these policies. Or because he does plan to introduce watered-down versions if he makes it to the White House. The result was Biden failed to outline a vision, leaving the impression of a nice guy whose strongest point is that he is not Trump.

Trump, who dominated the debate in the worst possible way, declined to disavow white supremacists who have been the main source of bloodshed at the anti-racist protests and riots still taking place across the US. The race card remained in play with code phrases like “law and order” and claims that Biden was disliked by the police. Climate change was played down and declared to have no role in the record wildfires burning across the Pacific coast.

Trump doubled-down on what worries the US commentariat the most: That he will use batteries of lawyers to contest a Biden victory. He insinuated mail-order ballots, which are likely to be skewed towards Democrats, were suspect and airily said “it could be months” before it is clear who would win. “If I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I’m not going to accept it.” Biden sidestepped attacking the conservative Christian supreme court nominee Trump has chosen, knowing she may cast the deciding vote if the contest has to be decided by the judiciary. Burying his rivals with legal cases was a standard operating procedure for Trump the real estate man. Which is why the Democrats are already lining up hundreds of lawyers in expectation.

The President’s nemesis in this election is less Biden than the Covid-19 virus. The pandemic wrecked a roaring US economy. The memory of that growth is strong enough that US voters still say they have more faith in Trump than Biden when it comes to the economy. The virus also sharply revealed the depths of the Trump’s administration’s dysfunctionality. Suburban women, “soccer moms” and similar social groups, are a large chunk of the vote and the most concerned about family and community safety. They voted for Barack Obama, but dumped Hillary Clinton in favour of Trump. They have been tracking consistently for Biden largely because they are appalled by the President’s handling of Covid-19. In this debate, as in real life, Trump fumbled in his responses about the pandemic, noting he carried a mask, claiming a vaccine was around the corner and claiming India and Russia – two of the few countries he has had positive things to say about – lie about their Covid numbers.

US voters who wanted a genuine election debate about policies and vision will have to wait when the vice-presidents, seasoned politicians Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, meet on October 6. Biden continues to lead Trump by 3.5% in the battleground states, the number that matters. This debate won’t change that.

ht epaper

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