Trump wins big by letting Biden be Biden

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Trump wins big by letting Biden be Biden

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Going into Thursday’s debate, I said the two candidates would have to fight their own worst tendencies to reassure voters. Rusty from years off the debate stage, they’d have to reach out to that double-hater demographic, suburban doubters and independent voters. This small sliver of voters that remains undecided needed to be reassured in different ways. 

From President Joe Biden, they needed to see a man who was in command, smooth and consistent in his delivery, who could defend a record that simply doesn’t feel great to the average voter. They needed to see a man who laid to rest concerns about his age, or at least quelled them for a night, as he had done at the State of the Union. 

From former President Donald Trump, they needed to see a man who was temperate and disciplined, who could contrast his record with Biden’s while controlling his bombastic personality quirks and tendency to re-litigate his worst moments and dwell on 2020. 

CAN BIDEN BE REPLACED AS THE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE?

The most advantageous version of both men that could show up was the State of the Union version. State of the Union Biden is more energetic and fluent, with a handful of policy points at his disposal, if disconcertingly loud. State of the Union Trump is Trump but more subdued, with a handful of ad libs. 

President Biden and former President Trump debated on Thursday night. Trump succeeded and the contrast was undeniable.  (Getty Images)

Only one of those guys showed up, and the contrast was undeniable. Even the difference in the two men’s voices in their opening statements told the story of the debate. 

It was less than 15 minutes into the debate that Biden seemed to lose his train of thought, ending an answer with a nonsensical non sequitur: “and we finally beat Medicare.” 

Trump capitalized, merely smirking as he waited for Biden to deliver his answer, then following up with a critique about how Biden “beat Medicare. He beat it to death.”  

Trump’s uncharacteristic restraint, along with a debate rule that cut off mics to prevent crosstalk, let the current president bury himself instead of being rescued by Trump’s interjections.  

In a disgraceful moment, Biden simply erased the 13 American servicemembers who were killed at the Abbey Gate in Afghanistan during the disastrous withdrawal.  

“Truth is, I’m the only president this century that doesn’t have — this decade — any troops dying anywhere in the world like he did.” 

Not only was Biden’s mention of one of his most notable and deadly failures an unforced error, but Trump was able to retort: 

“And as far as Afghanistan is concerned, I was getting out of Afghanistan, but we were getting out with dignity, with strength, with power. He got out, it was the most embarrassing day in the history of our country’s life.” 

Drudge Report headline

Drudge Report ran the headline “OPERATION: REPLACE BIDEN” following the CNN President Debate. (Screenshot/Drudge Report)

Trump then used his best skill — comedic timing and a sense for good TV entertainment — to deliver the line of the night. After a somewhat rambling and mumbly answer from Biden on immigration, the moderator came to Trump. 

“I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either.” 

He said what everyone was thinking. All of that happened in the first 25 minutes of the debate, the most-watched part of any debate, the part that the very people both candidates needed to reach were tuning in.  

There were arguably moments in which Biden was slightly better as the debate wore on, but it didn’t matter. I struggle to remember even one punch Biden landed on Trump, even on easy subjects, like January 6.

On the subjects of the future of democracy or abortion — the only issues on which Biden consistently leads with voters and which are supposed to form the basis of his whole campaign — Biden didn’t lay a glove on him. 

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It was Biden, not Trump, who gave the most off-putting answer on the issue of abortion, leaving pro-choice activists tearing their hair out as he talked about women being raped by their in-laws. I’ll let you try to decipher it: 

“Look, there’s so many young women who have been – including a young woman who just was murdered and he – he went to the funeral. The idea that she was murdered by a – by –by an immigrant coming in, and they talk about that. But here’s the deal, there’s a lot of young women who are being raped by their – by their in-laws, by their – by their spouses, brothers and sisters, by – just – it’s just – it’s just ridiculous. And they can do nothing about it.” 

By not becoming the story of the debate, Trump scored a big win. Biden became the only story of the night by delivering, as even his ally MSNBC host Joe Scarborough put it, “the worst debate performance in modern history.” 

Trump then used his best skill — comedic timing and a sense for good TV entertainment — to deliver the line of the night. After a somewhat rambling and mumbly answer from Biden on immigration, the moderator came to Trump. “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either.” 

Democratic partisans and much of media are rightly freaking out in the wake of Biden’s night, seeming to suddenly realize that the 81-year-old might not be up to the job. The number of times the word “panic” is going to be used on MSNBC might surpass the number of border-crossings today. 

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But Democrats are truly in a sticky situation if they want to accomplish their barely concealed dream of replacing Biden on the ticket in the summer of an election year. Biden has been running for president since I was a child. He seems unlikely to step aside without a fight. His wife, the figure closest to him, was at his afterparty congratulating him because he “answered every question. You knew all the facts,” as Biden smiled woodenly at an audience that pretended not to see what was before their eyes. 

But pretending not to see what was before their eyes is what got Democrats here. The surprise you see today at Biden’s decline from our elites is just them catching up with voters, 69% of whom in this week’s NYT/Siena poll said Biden is too old to effectively be president for another four years. That number is not new. This information is not new. What’s new is they just realized they might not be able to get away with lying to all of us about it. 

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