The (not so) presidential debate, take three

Scott and I have presented our similar takes on the Trump-Biden debate. I have also presented Stanley Kurtz’s contrary view of that encounter.

Marc Thiessen, the only regular Washington Post columnist who openly supports President Trump, offers a third take. Thiessen believes Trump won the debate on substance (I thought it was a draw for Trump, at best). However, Thiessen worries that Trump didn’t accomplish what he needed to do to overtake Biden in the race. He explains:

Trump’s base will love his performance. But the president did not need to energize his base, which is already fired up and ready to vote. He needed to win over persuadable voters who like his policies but don’t like him. Before the pandemic he appealed to these voters by saying, “Whether you love me or hate me, you have got to vote for me.” Unfortunately, his performance Tuesday did little to convince them that they should.

Trump’s challenge is encapsulated in a New York Times-Siena College poll, which finds that 46 percent of Americans approve of the job he is doing as president and 54 percent approve of his handling of the economy — but only 41 percent say they plan to vote for him. That means a lot of voters who think Trump is doing a good job don’t plan to give him a second term.

Why? Perhaps it’s because they are exhausted by what the nation witnessed Tuesday night. Trump’s job was to make himself more palatable to these reluctant voters, and persuade them to look past what they don’t like about him and vote in their self-interest.

His hyper-aggressive attacks did the opposite. To Americans suffering from Trump exhaustion, the debate must have left them even wearier.

There’s another way of looking at the debate, though. America knows that Trump is a loud-mouth bully. Somehow, it considers Joe Biden a good guy.

After the debate, America still knows what Trump is. But it’s now impossible for a reasonable person who isn’t a committed Biden voter to believe that Biden is a good guy. Not after he called the President of the United States a “clown,” a “liar” and a “racist,” and told him, “Shut up, man.”

It may be that a lot of undecided voters who might have voted for Biden now will vote for Trump or, perhaps more likely, not vote. It’s also possible that some hard leftists who were planning to vote for Biden won’t do so. Not after Biden pronounced himself the Democratic Party and then refused, on the party’s behalf, to affirm several key positions of the hard left.

I fear, though, that Thiessen’s pessimistic take is more plausible than the mildly optimistic one I have just suggested.