If the first Presidential debate didn’t put you off US politics for good, your patience is commendable: the shouting match between Biden and Trump left much to be desired in terms debating quality and coherent sentences. It seemed fitting, then, that the second debate was replaced by candidates attending simultaneous town hall meetings. Trump was grilled in Miami by NBC’s Savannah Guthrie; Biden in Philadelphia by ABC’s George Stephanopolous.
We know Trump. He is loud, obnoxious and erratic. He’s been able to rise to the peak of the political arena through his unorthodox ‘say it as it is’ approach, which resonated with millions of Americans. However, his campaign message has been largely consistent and Thursday was no exception. There was, of course, a promise to repeal Obamacare, accompanied by little indication as to how.
The President continued his trend of refusing to condemn dangerous phenomena. Where last week it was white supremacy, this week it was the turn of QAnon – a conspiracy theory asserting that satan-worshipping Democrats engage in pedophilia and child trafficking. Trump praised QAnon followers for their objection to pedophilia whilst simultaneously defending his use of Twitter as “just sharing information”. Something rather ironic given his apparent ineptness on the platform – the article he shared prompting the QAnon questions was in fact satirical: well, assuming that Obama didn’t stage the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Perhaps Donald and I have different opinions on what qualifies as information. As interviewer Guthrie put it: “You’re the President. You’re not someone’s crazy uncle who can just retweet whatever.”
Trump’s personal finances were a focal point of his appearance. He showed flippancy towards his admission that he currently owes $400 million to creditors, but was adamant that none of his debt was to Russia. Not to worry then. Similarly, he defended himself against the damning New York Times report which uncovered that Trump only paid $750 in federal income tax in 2016 and 2017. According to Guthrie, “probably everybody” in the limited audience paid more tax than the President. Trump argued that this abnormally low figure was just a “filing number”.
All in all, Trump’s performance was lacklustre. Unable to utilise his box of tricks that worked effectively against a stifled Biden, he struggled to cope with the pace and pestering nature of Guthrie’s questions. Giving short answers in an often condescending manner, Trump will have done little to appease the female electorate who have continuously doubted his record on interacting with women.
We know less about Biden. He was slow and overwhelmed in the first debate, yet went into this week on the back of some good news. Namely, he has a comfortable lead in both national and battleground polls, and managed to smash (double) the previous record, held by Obama, for monthly fundraising during a presidential campaign – $383 million in September. Using his newly uninterrupted screen time, the challenger spent time advocating transgender rights and a fairer justice system for black voters – aimed at solidifying the support of traditionally Democratic demographics.
However, a rare slip-up from the former VP came when asked about Trump’s foreign policy record in relation to Israel and its recent negotiations with its Arab neighbours. Biden replied “a little, but not a lot” before realising his mistake and launching his usual missiles at the current administration, citing a certain Russian leader named Vladimir. What started as a hesitant answer soon veered into Biden’s declaration that Trump had “no coherent plan for foreign policy”.
Equally as notably, Biden again declared that he would not ban fracking if elected, contrary to Republican and Trump belief. However, the Democratic nominee stated that he would “stop giving tax breaks and subsidising oil”. Biden seemed torn between showcasing an environmental agenda and pleasing those in oil-industry unions, which may prove detrimental in the long run. Similarly hesitantly, Biden stated that voters deserve to know his stance on increasing the number of Justices in the Supreme Court; however, he gave no indication of his current opinion, promising only that voters would know before the election. Some would argue this unfair to those who have already casted votes.
Biden’s performance was cool and efficient, more befitting of a conventional President; he thrived in the warm environment created by ABC and George Stephanopolous. Unlike his opponent, he gave lengthy answers (up to eight minutes), wasn’t condescending, and enjoyed good rapport with the interviewer. It was a fine way to respond to last week’s poor showing. However, one cant help but feel Joe’s bashfulness surrounding certain issues may create a perception amongst voters of him as indecisive.
Nevertheless, Biden shone where Trump faltered. A dramatic week since the first Presidential debate may prove to be a stroke of luck for the Biden campaign. I too felt lucky in that I wasn’t subject to the bickering of grown men constantly interrupting one another. When the White House was hit with a Covid-19 outbreak, the Presidential debate was due to be a virtual one before Trump pulled out. With the experience of online classes, I think we can all imagine what a sh*tshow that would have been.