Tonight’s debate

If President Trump loses the election, I believe it will be because voters aren’t satisfied with his response to the Wuhan coronavirus and/or with the way he conducts himself. If Joe Biden loses the election, it will be because Americans don’t think he’s up to the job, or because they think his administration will be too radical, or (and this is a longshot) because they think he and his son used Biden’s vice presidency to make money in China and Ukraine.

Did tonight’s debate cement or dispel any of these reasons for voting against Trump or Biden?

I don’t think Trump moved the needle on the coronavirus. Once again, he did not answer Biden’s allegation that he knew in January what a serious threat the virus posed but didn’t tell the American people because he didn’t want them to panic.

Trump did conduct himself much better tonight than he did in the first debate. However, I think that after four years, voters’ impressions of his behavior are fixed.

There are probably some voters who were inclined to move away from Trump after the way he handled himself in the first debate. If they watched tonight, some within this group may move back into his column. So Trump might gain some benefit from tonight’s performance by virtue of behaving better. However, any benefit is likely to be quite small.

As for Biden, he did well enough tonight to dispel the notion that he’s not up to the job of being president. He stumbled over his words at times, especially as the night wore on. However, in my view he never looked like a man with diminished capacity.

Biden tried hard to assuage fears that he will govern from the far left. I think he made a plausible-sounding case that he won’t socialize our medicine (though I’m pretty sure he will). I think he was effective when he chided Trump for being “confused” about whether the Democratic nominee is Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. Trump never really showed that Biden is a stalking horse for the left (though I believe he is).

But Biden confessed to wanting to phase out the oil and gas industry. He also said that, if elected, he will promptly move to create a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. And he assented more than he should have to the notion that America is racist.

Some or all of these positions may cost him votes he might otherwise have received. In fact, I believe his position on oil and gas will cost him a considerable number of votes. Biden’s admission was probably the most significant thing that happened in the debate.

Biden denied having ever said he would ban fracking. This, I believe, is a lie. If so, and if the Trump campaign presses the point effectively, this will cost Biden votes.

As to the issue of Biden’s corruption, Trump may have planted a seed, but the format didn’t afford him the opportunity to make it grow. And Biden was reasonably effective, I think, in dodging the issue by raising the matter of Trump’s tax returns.

The NBC moderator (an improvement over Chris Wallace, but that’s a very low bar) helped Biden by not pressing him hard on the matter. She did ask Biden whether his son had done anything inappropriate or unethical in his business dealings. Biden simply said that Hunter hadn’t, and the matter was left there.

Still, Trump’s reference to Biden as “the big man” in Hunter’s operation might at least alert voters to this issue, which the mainstream media has tried to suppress. Whether, in the time left, Trump can gain traction with this theme remains to be seen.

I hope I’m wrong, but my guess is that the issue won’t really take hold until after the election. It will, however, cast a big cloud on Biden’s presidency if he wins.

Who won the debate? I would give it to Trump narrowly on points. However, for the reasons discussed above, I conclude that unless this election is extremely close, tonight’s debate won’t affect its outcome.