Well, that was awful. As in, screaming, feces-throwing monkey ghastly.
Welcome to the Countdown Journal. There are 34 days until Election Day, and then another 78 days until the Inauguration.
I’m not sure if you watched the entire debate last night, but if you made the rational choice to turn it off and do something more pleasant — like perform root-canal surgery on yourself — you did not miss a great moment for democracy.
A quick list of losers would be 1. America, 2. The Presidency, 3. Trump, and 4. The National Sanity. I’d put Chris Wallace on the list, but short of slamming his fist on a non-existent mute button, I’m not sure what he could have done. I imagine that this morning he’s examining his life choices. Aren’t we all?
But if you could bear to watch this unwatchable merdefest, there were memorable moments.
At one point, the former vice president of the United States said to the current president, ‘Will you shut up, man?”
And he spoke for all of America.
As JVL writes in this morning’s Bulwark, “The Cleveland debate was a miniature, 90-minute version of the last 4 years: depressing, exhausting, full of craziness and lies.”
It was also a reminder what happens when you elevate a blustering, mendacious, bully to the Oval Office. The whole world cringed.
Yes, Biden could have been sharper. He let some of Trump’s gibes go unanswered. At the beginning he seemed old and shaky. The constant interruptions occasionally seemed to fluster him. As time when on, though, he recovered and instant polls suggest he won the night.
But this isn’t the usual catalogue of winners and losers, because the real story here was Trump, whose performance was a toxic brew of horrific and shambolic.
But this felt like the last twitches of desperate sycophancy. The reality is that Trump was appalling — an insult to the institution of the presidency, the democratic process, and our intelligence. His chronic indecency almost goes without saying.
“Trump was something else entirely — some kind of post-truth, street-fighting, full-spectrum bulls**t artist,” wrote Damon Linker. “Say anything. Dominate constantly. Display no warmth. No compassion. No empathy. Just fight, fight, fight.” Bill Kristol noted that the debate “was a disgrace because of the behavior of one man, Donald Trump. The interrupting and the bullying, the absence of both decency and dignity— gave the affair the rare and sickening character of a national humiliation.” James Fallows called last night “a disgusting moment for democracy. Donald Trump made it so, and Chris Wallace let him.”
“But this is our country on Trump,” writes Amanda Carpenter. “We are constantly assailed by belligerent bullshit from our Manbaby-in-Chief.”
Before I turn over the podium to my colleagues, four lowlights stuck with me:
Trump went Full Captain Queeg.
If you have unhinged ranting about Obamagate on your bingo card, you won. Feel the paranoia:
So when I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there has been no transition from when I won. I won that election. And if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup. They came after me spying on my campaign.
They started from the day I won, and even before I won. From the day I came down the escalator with our first lady, they were a disaster.
They were a disgrace to our country, and we’ve caught them. We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.
The whole Hunter Biden thing.
I’m sure that Trump thought he scored by repeated the same charges against Biden’s son, but his constant interruptions were so obnoxious that they may have turned off any undecided voters still watching this shit show. Check out this headline from Vanity Fair: “TRUMP INTERRUPTS JOE BIDEN TALKING ABOUT DEAD SON TO CALL THE ONE THAT’S STILL ALIVE A DEADBEAT.”
Biden: And speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being losers and being and just being suckers. My son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got the Conspicuous Service Medal. He was not a loser. He was a Patriot and the people left behind there were heroes.
President Donald J. Trump: (47:39)
Vice President Joe Biden: (47:39)
And I resent-
President Donald J. Trump: (47:40)
Are you talking Hunter, are you talking about Hunter.
Vice President Joe Biden: (47:42)
I’m talking about my son, Beau Biden, you’re talking about Hunter?
President Donald J. Trump: (47:44)
I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter. Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out dishonorably discharged.
Vice President Joe Biden: (47:51)
That’s not true he was not dishonorably discharged.
President Donald J. Trump: (47:53)
For cocaine use. And he didn’t have a job until you became vice president.
Vice President Joe Biden: (47:56)
None of that is true.
President Donald J. Trump: (47:56)
Once you became vice president he made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow and various other places.
Vice President Joe Biden: (48:01)
That is not true.
President Donald J. Trump: (48:04)
He made a fortune and he didn’t have a job.
Vice President Joe Biden: (48:07)
My son like a lot of people at home had a drug problem. He’s overtaking it. He’s fixed it. He’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him, I’m proud of my son.
President Donald J. Trump: (48:17)
But why was he given tens of millions of dollars?
Vice President Joe Biden: (48:19)
He wasn’t given tens of millions of dollars. [crosstalk 00:48:23] It was all discredited.
Chris Wallace: (48:27)
We’ve already been through this. I think the American people would rather hear about more substantial subjects. Well, as the moderator, sir, I’m going to make a judgment call here.
He refused to condemn white supremacists.
Asked whether he was willing to denounce white supremacists and militia groups, Trump said, “Sure.” He added, speaking broadly, “Sure, I’m willing to do that, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing.”
Biden and Wallace then invited Trump to say it more explicitly, but he went in a different direction. Trump asked them to name specific groups, at which point Biden volunteered the “Proud Boys.”
Trump offered something besides a condemnation.
“Proud Boys: Stand back and stand by,” Trump said, adding: “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what: Somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left, because this is not a right-wing problem.”
The most charitable read on Trump’s comments is that he was truly suggesting that such groups back off. But he clearly didn’t condemn them, and the Proud Boys didn’t take it as such.
He refused to say that he would accept the results of the election.
"I'm urging supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully," Trump said, on a night where he continued his unfounded attacks on voting by mail. "If it's a fair election, I am 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that."
Biden, by contrast, pointed out that Trump's own FBI director, Christopher Wray, has said there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Biden agreed he would not declare victory until the election was certified.
We’ll have to wait to see whether last night’s debate really changed anything. But this was an interesting reaction:
And this from Fox:
There are 34 days to go.
1. Our Presidential Sociopath
Your absolute must-read of the morning is this piece by JVL: The President Is a Sociopath. And 60 Million Americans Like It.
Donald Trump dominated the debate. Utterly and completely. He was a doughy, orange honey-badger, yelling, shouting, cajoling, needling and—this is the important part—never shutting up. He kept ploughing ahead, no matter what. He bulldozed Chris Wallace. He bulldozed Joe Biden. He turned every question into what he wanted to talk about. He hit all of the notes he wanted: Burisma, stock market, shutdowns, Pocahontas.
If you are a fan of the Trump lifestyle brand—if you have a Trump flag on your boat and wear a MAGA hat because you love pissing off the brown girl with the nose ring at Starbucks—then I suspect that you thought this was the greatest performance by any debater in the history of debates.
So I’m going to guess that people were very happy on Parler.
On the other hand, it’s not clear to me that Trump’s act was effective with undecided voters.
And I say this because Trump treated the debate like he was trying to win an argument between two baby mamas on a trash daytime show, while Joe Biden made a concerted effort throughout the debate to pretend that Trump wasn’t there, often talking directly to voters.
2. Just Shut Up, Man
Massive resources are embarrassingly devoted to attending to his emotional outbursts, trying to coddle and manage him, and to make him please, please, please behave like a president. It’s futile. Republicans haven’t been able to do it in Congress. Chris Wallace couldn’t do it at the debate. Meanwhile, Americans keep dying, democracy keeps crumbling, and Trump keeps getting away with it.
As Biden said in exasperation to Trump, “Just shut up, man.” Let’s end this farce of a presidency. Let’s all shut up and vote.
3. A National Humiliation
There should be no more “debates.” For the sake of the country, Joe Biden should refuse to appear again on the same stage as Donald Trump. Biden can have weekly or twice weekly town halls, including with Trump supporters. He can do all manner of interviews and forums. He can make clear he’s happy to engage with the American public in all kinds of ways. But he should not put the nation through another ordeal like that.
Let Tuesday night have been Trump’s final, disreputable appearance on a nationally televised stage. Let him conduct the rest of his campaign desperately yelling to crowds of true believers as his defeat grows ever nearer.
1. Apex Bone Spurs
Andrew Lawrence @ndrew_lawrenceHuman No Fear tshirt Dan Bongino thinks Donald Trump is an "apex predator" https://t.co/P1W0jr8La5
Robby Soave @robbysoaveThat debate was the most viscerally unpleasant two hours of television I can ever recall having watched.
3. Herman Cain. The Name You Forgot Is Herman Cain.
1. Our Brokest Billionaire
I was thinking of a story that Samantha Bee found a while back. It was from the 2003 documentary Born Rich, in which Ivanka Trump shared this memory of the family’s financial troubles from the 1980s and 1990s:
I remember once my father and I were walking down Fifth Avenue and there was a homeless person sitting right outside of Trump Tower and I remember my father pointing to him and saying, ‘You know, that guy has $8 billion more than me,’ because he was in such extreme debt at that point, you know?
In 2020, despite the dazzling success of The Apprentice, in which NBC was able to portray the failing and flailing trust fund boy as a business genius and earned Trump the first real money of his life (apart from his inheritance), Trump again seems to be worth less than the homeless guy on the street, at least in financial terms.