There’s always a tell, and in this case there are four: the polls, the pundits, the cash, and the insiders.
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 33 days to go until Election Day and, after that, 78 days until the Inauguration.
How do you know that Donald Trump badly lost Tuesday’s debate (and perhaps his last chance to turn the race around)?
Let’s start with the obvious: the polls.
Ignore the non-scientific polls touted by TrumpWold: All the real-world polls show the same thing; the early CNN and CBS snap polls gave Biden a big edge and that was confirmed by two new polls yesterday.
The folks at FiveThirtyEight partnered with Ipsos to track reactions. “The topline is clear,” they found. “Americans were not impressed with the president’s performance. Whether that will actually lead people to change their votes remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely.”
Going into the debate, more people had a negative opinion of Trump, but after the debate, the gap between Biden and Trump’s net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) grew even larger, from 26 points to 33 points.
A Vox poll found similar reactions.
A new poll by Data for Progress provided exclusively to Vox shows that viewers thought Democratic nominee Joe Biden decisively won Tuesday’s first presidential debate against President Donald Trump, by a 52-39 margin.
And then there are the focus groups. The night of the debate, Frank Luntz found voters highly unimpressed with Trump’s performance. Sarah Longwell found the same thing and you can read her findings in this morning’s Bulwark. “Trump’s performance in last night’s debate did nothing to win this group back and caused some of the previously undecided women to close the door on Trump for good.”
Keep in mind that these were all Trump 2016 voters:
PA Voter 4: “If people in other countries watched that, it makes me wonder how he behaves with foreign dignitaries. Much of what Biden said I lost because Trump was always talking over him. If I was Biden I don’t think I’d agree to a second debate.”
FL Voter: “It was difficult to watch and finish. I was relieved when it was over, I was very disappointed in both of them. I don’t know if I can support either of those candidates, I lost respect for both of them. I wish Biden would’ve been a better foil to the president and not responded in the same terms. I understand why you’d tell someone to ‘shut up’ but I wish he could’ve been a contrast to Trump a little more. I felt like Biden stuck to talking points. I was disappointed all around.”
TX Voter: “Donald Trump was one of the most obnoxious and rude people in the universe. I have to hand it to Joe, he held his wits better than I thought he would. I guess my question is: Do I really have to vote? I don’t know but I want to, but it was discouraging. I don’t think either one won.”
WI Voter: “I agree with the rest, Trump was the bully. I think maybe Biden should’ve been more prepared on how to deal with that, because that was to be expected.”
Sarah’s results track with this account of undecided voters from the heartland.
Then there are Trumpian pundits. Leaving aside the chronic turd-polishers like Hugh Hewitt, they were… not happy. Many of them blamed moderator Chris Wallace, which was a tell because when you are attacking the moderator, you know you aren’t winning.
Rush Limbaugh set the tone by calling the debate “frustrating and unfair.” Much whining followed.
It was Trump versus two people last night.
And it was unfair. All this white supremacist stuff being dredged up, but there wasn’t one mention of Joe Biden out there saying, “If you ain’t voting for me, you ain’t black.” I get so sick and tired this white supremacist allegation that Trump has refuted, he didn’t do it, he didn’t say it, and yet they keep dredging it up.
The Federalist featured complaints from Ted Cruz, who called Wallace’s moderating ‘Abysmal,’ ‘Whiny,’ And ‘Petulant’
Noting the liberal leanings of Wallace, a registered Democrat, Cruz compared his debate questions to an “oppo research dump.”
“They were equivalent of asking Trump ‘when did you stop beating your wife,’ and he didn’t do that on the other side,” Cruz said. He thought Wallace’s first question, about the Supreme Court, was a good start — but was frustrated each time Wallace stepped in to save Biden from having to answer Trump’s challenges.
The usual fluffers took a break from fluffing:
The moderator’s liberal bias was obvious in the nature of many of the questions, as was his dislike of the president when he’d get into arguments with the president over policy while mostly letting Biden get away with whoppers….
Biden’s obvious strategy, plus the moderator’s predictable approach, was infuriating.
Rick Santorum was pummeled into candor as he struggled to defend Trump’s failure to condemn the Proud Boys.
"The Democrats owe a lot to Chris Wallace, because Chris Wallace asked those two questions, not Joe Biden. And he asked them for a reason. Because he asked two questions, where he was asking the president to do something he knows the president doesn't like to do," Santorum said on a CNN panel.
"Which is say something bad about people who support him. Talking about the white supremacists."
“Trump is debating the moderator and Biden,” Fox’s Laura Ingraham tweeted.
Host Greg Gutfeld seemed to agree with Ingraham, re-tweeting multiple comments about Trump debating two people. In one retweet, podcast host Stephen L. Miller wrote that “Wallace is grilling Trump on his supporters taking to the streets when antifa is burning businesses down right now.”…
In a since-deleted tweet, Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade also aimed at Wallace, tweeting that it “looks like 2 V 1” debate at times. Kilmeade wondered why Biden was “allowed to interrupt” while Trump was not in a second tweet.
Other tells? The cash. Via CNBC:
The Democratic fundraising website ActBlue processed close to $8 million between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET, according to the site’s live ticker. By 9:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, it showed that, since the start of the debate, at least $25 million had gone through the site to various campaigns and committees up and down the ballot.
Biden campaign officials told reporters late Tuesday they raised $3.8 million between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. through ActBlue, which they said was the site’s one-hour record.
And finally, there is the insider spin room, which is bristling with knives in backs.
Chris Christie reportedly helped Trump to “prepare” for the debate, but he broke bad on the president’s actual performance (thus distancing himself from the fiasco, which is something Christie is adept at doing.)
“It was too hot,” he said about Trump, a fellow Republican and longtime friend who is so far trailing Biden in the polls. “You come in and decide you want to be aggressive, and I think it was the right thing to be aggressive. But that was too hot.”
“I think that the advice was for the president to be aggressive, but it was hotter than it was planned to be,” Christie added
“This election is drifting toward what feels like a blowout [victory for Biden], and there needs to be some type of event that changes that. The debate was a chance to change the direction, and while it might be too early to be seen, there is no real reason to believe it was a game-changer,” said Brendan Buck, a former top adviser to the past two Republican House speakers, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Don’t miss Josh Kraushaar’s smart take on this:
It doesn’t take a savvy political analyst to conclude that Tuesday night’s debate was a disaster for President Trump. Trailing badly in the national polls and a critical mass of battlegrounds, his only goal should have been to convince the small number of undecided voters that they should reelect him—despite their deep reservations about his character and temperament.
Joe Biden came here to debate Donald Trump, the man who's been president for four years. The president came to debate “Joe Biden,” a Fox News character who can't finish a sentence, can't stand up to the network's left-wing villain of the day, and yet helped plan a conspiracy against him.
He has some regrets. Chris Wallace says he didn’t see it coming.
Recalling his thoughts as he sat onstage in the Cleveland hall, with tens of millions of Americans watching live, Mr. Wallace said: “I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”
Meanwhile the debate commission says it’s going to make changes. Presumably, that will include a mute button. Good luck with that.
ICYMI: JVL points out that the debate shitshow was not a matter of “both sides” behaving badly.
Imagine a newspaper reporting on the Soviet invasion of Poland in September of 1939 with a headline saying:
“Russians, Poles, trade fire in latest outbreak of violence.”
There is only one person responsible for what happened at the debate: Donald Trump.
It’s on him. Entirely.
Racicot said Trump lacks the patience and humility needed to lead the country.
“I regret that I will cause consternation, perhaps, in some corners, but even as a Republican, I will not be supporting Donald Trump for president, and I will not be voting for him,” Racicot said, adding that he still has policy disagreements with Biden.
He added: “But at the end, the content of a man's character or a woman's character to serve in that capacity is more important than any other issue that I have to consider as a matter of conscience.”
White knuckle polling update:
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball moves Biden over 270 electoral votes “as we move several Midwestern states in his favor.” Other models also continue to favor Biden. FiveThirtyEight has moved Biden’s chances up to 79 out of a 100.
So, this race remains stable:
The latest poll out of Iowa —a state that Trump won by 9-points four years ago —shows Biden up by 2 points.
But this could still get very ugly. “Trump Renews Fears of Voter Intimidation as G.O.P. Poll Watchers Mobilize.”
There are 33 days to go.
1. The “Very Fine People” President
Robert Tracinski breaks down the president’s latest failure to get it right on white supremacy.
What did Trump say to the Proud Boys? The phrase “stand down” was still hanging there in the air, from seconds earlier, but he didn’t use that. He used “stand by,” which indicates waiting in a position of readiness. And then he went on immediately to give a purpose to be ready for: to “do something about Antifa and the left.”
Did Trump really mean this? It is not reasonable to claim that he meant anything else.
If Trump had intended to issue a forthright condemnation of violent right-wing groups, if he had prepared to do so, he would have said something very different. He has a small army of speechwriters and political advisors and spent at least some time rehearsing his debate points. And this is not a man who usually has difficulty letting us know when he disapproves of someone. Yet somehow this easily anticipated issue was not important enough to bother with.
2. ICYMI: the Worst Takes From The Debate
Jim Swift compiled the disingenuous, mendacious, and the just plain stupid.
Meanwhile, during the debate and ever since it ended, the internet has been aflame with takes—some smart, some not so much. Beyond a left-right consensus that the whole thing was pretty awful—the word “shitshow” has been thrown around a lot—many of the takes about last night’s debate are pretty grim for Republicans, because, well, it was not a good night for Donald Trump.
In an homage to our friends over at Twitchy, here are some of the dumbest, goofiest, question-begging debate takes from the right.
Jon Lovett @jonlovettI see Trump’s intellectual zambonis have decided that Trump actually DID denounce white supremacy, but with his trademark subtlety. Keep going! Another couple trips ‘round the ice you’ll have this all smoothed out.
2. Level 3?
Ben Collins @oneunderscore__Just a reminder that these are levels three and four of the Proud Boys' initiation: Level 3 - Agree not to masturbate more than one time per month; get a tattoo Level 4 - Get into some sort of physical altercation for the cause
3. There Seems To Be A Pattern
McKay Coppins @mckaycoppinsJust an extraordinary number of people who enter Trump's orbit end up leaving under bleak/tragic/punishing circumstances. The cause-and-effect may be complicated, but the pattern is undeniable.
4. I Get Fan Mail
1. A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans
Stewart Rhodes was living his vision of the future. On television, American cities were burning, while on the internet, rumors warned that antifa bands were coming to terrorize the suburbs. Rhodes was driving around South Texas, getting ready for them. He answered his phone. “Let’s not fuck around,” he said. “We’ve descended into civil war.”…
As Trump spent the year warning about voter fraud, the Oath Keepers were listening. What would happen, I wondered, if Trump lost, said the election had been stolen, and refused to concede? Or the flip side: What if he won and his opponents poured into the streets in protest? The U.S. was already seeing a surge in political violence, and in August the FBI put out a bulletin that warned of a possible escalation heading into the election. How much worse would things get if trained professionals took up arms?