Biden was visibly rattled during the debate last night. It’s a new era on the debate stage, one that requires a calculated and strong presence to win – along with new tactics in a new era of politics.
When the US engaged in revolution, fighting for independence from English rule, a new era of warfare tactics began. The British soldiers were well-versed in head-to-head tactics, an organized fight, a line of redcoats walking onto a field like a game of chess. The American rebels won the Revolutionary war in large part because they hid in the forest, behind buildings, and protected by landscape. It was dubbed “Guerilla warfare” and it worked.
Prior to today, debates have been a thing of protocol. A predetermined set of criteria are applied to the debate stage, on which two candidates politely and strategically respond to predetermined questions. When Abraham Lincoln debated incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas for the US Senate seat, it was a careful, respectful, and scripted affair. With no moderator, it was an exercise that included 60 minutes of speech from one candidate, followed by a 90-minute response, and closed with a 30-minute counter response. The event required stamina, twice as many minutes as the Trump-Biden debate on September 29, 2020.
Over the years, we have seen the debates change. Moderators became commonplace, an effort to keep candidates on track. Carefully negotiated restrictions on time and fairness grew. Town halls were added to recognize the common man. The ability to provide quick and skillful responses to in-the-moment accusations and questions are required.
September 29, 2020 has ushered in a new era of debates, Guerilla debating. Both candidates talked over one another. Chris Wallace, as moderator fueled the warfare and presented targeted questions- questions void of academic integrity. The setting was surreal, lacking the usual robust audience presence. Opening remarks were given by the debate’s hosts, focused on the issue of Covid-19, a hot button in the debate. Fact checkers were precariously poised with prewritten articles, providing cover fire from the bushes for their favorite candidate.
This election is dramatically polarized. Regardless of the performance of either candidate, the vast majority of Americans watching had no desire to be persuaded to one side or the other. Those complaining in social media feeds during and after the event about the debate not changing the outcome, are right, but they are missing a salient point.
Americans want a candidate, a President, who can hold his own. One who is honest and who will lead the nation going forward during unique times.
What is painfully clear is that there was only one candidate who was visibly rattled. Joe Biden was wholly uncomfortable with barbs about his political record from the President. Trump talked about Biden’s 47-year record of inaction, his son, Hunter, receiving significant funds from foreign sources while Biden was Vice President, Biden’s accusations that closing our borders in response to Covid-19 was xenophobic, as well as his record of lying about where he got his degree and how he ranked academically. Biden stammered as usual.
The President was bullheaded and relentless, appropriate for the Guerilla-warfare debate conditions. He questioned Biden’s intelligence and ability, but did not call him names. Biden, on the other hand, like an immature child, responded to the President’s accusations by saying “shut up, man.” Biden followed that comment with accusing the President of being “unpresidential.” Later the former Vice President called the President a “clown.”
Like the behavior of a young child, Biden repeatedly responded to Trump’s gunfire by resorting to name-calling. Trump leaned heavily on explaining policy in between bringing harsh attention to Biden’s record and lack of effective policy. Biden made several errors including almost repeating the inaccurate statistic that 200-million are dying from Covid and a significant error in first saying he supports the economy-killing Green New Deal and then denying that he supports it, contrary to his campaign website information.
Biden was rattled. Not a good look.
Both candidates played dirty, the debate was ugly and full of casualties, but Trump remained unrattled. Being unflappable is a critical asset for any President. Name-calling is a liability.