Final 2020 Debate Less Awful Than Worst Debate Ever

Less Trumpy Trump still Trump.

By all accounts, last night’s final debate between President Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden was more dignified and substantive than the previous outing. Of course, that’s a low bar, indeed.

The Associated Press‘ report (“Debate Takeaways: Round 2 highlights policy over petulance“) is typical:

For Trump, the matchup at Tennessee’s Belmont University Thursday was perhaps the final opportunity to change the dynamics of a race dominated, much to his chagrin, by his response to the pandemic and its economic fallout. For Biden, it was 90 minutes to solidify an apparent lead less than two weeks before the election.

Trump’s difficulty articulating a defense of his handling of the coronavirus remains a drag on his campaign. The opening topic of the debate was entirely predictable — Trump has received variations of the same question in interviews and has rarely delivered a clear answer.

Asked to outline his plan for the future, Trump instead asserted his prior handling was without fault and predicted a rosy reversal to the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans.

“We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner,” Trump claimed, even as cases spike again across the country. “It’s going away.”

Biden, who has sought to prosecute Trump’s handling of the virus in his closing pitch to voters, came prepared. “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America,” he said.

Biden added: “He says we’re, you know, we’re learning to live with it. People are learning to die with it.”

Trump and Biden each sought to position himself as the defender of American’s health care, keenly aware that it ranked among the top issues for voters even before the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation.

But Trump’s efforts to repeal and undermine the Obama-era Affordable Care Act proved to be a liability, as Biden hammered his efforts to strip coverage from tens of millions of Americans and his lack of a plan to cover those with preexisting conditions.

Biden, by contrast, fended off Trump’s attack that his plan to reinforce the Obama-era law with a “public option” amounted to a step toward socialized medicine by relying on his well-established public persona — and his vanquishing of Democratic primary rivals with more liberal health care policies.

“He thinks he’s running against somebody else,” Biden said. “I beat all those other people.”

Three weeks after drawing bipartisan criticism for his frequent interruptions and badgering of his Democratic rival, Trump adopted a more subdued tone for much of the debate.

Trump took to asking moderator Kristen Welker for the opportunity to follow up on Biden’s answers — “If I may?” — rather than just jumping in, and he thanked Welker repeatedly to boot.

From the first question, this debate seemed different from round one, when Trump’s incessant interruptions and flouting of time limits derailed the 90-minute contest from the outset.

Sure, there still were digs.

“We can’t lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does,” Trump said, reprising his spring and summer attacks on Biden staying at his residence rather than campaigning in-person amid the pandemic.

Biden smirked, laughed and shook his head. He mocked Trump for once suggesting bleach helped kill coronavirus.

The two men had a lengthy back-and-forth about their personal finances and family business entanglements.

But on the whole, voters at home got something they didn’t get on Sept. 29: a debate.

It marked a recognition by Trump that his bombastic side was a liability with the seniors and suburban women voters who have flocked from the GOP to Democrats.

There’s quite a bit more, including what most agree was the awkwardness of two old white men debating race relations, but otherwise a relatively unremarkable event.

Early polling indicates that Biden won. But even a draw would be more than good enough given the magnitude and steadiness of his lead in a race where tens of millions have already voted and the final votes must be cast in ten days.

Even favorable outlets seem to agree on that much.

Indeed, John Podhoretz of the New York Post, which last week run a widely-discredited agitprop piece on Joe Biden’s son, proclaims “Trump has debate of his life” before wondering “but is it too late?

With his back against the wall, Donald Trump pulled himself together and had the debate of his life. For the most part, he was focused, contained and determined to get his message across and not just be the alpha male.

His defense of his coronavirus response and his argument that the country cannot long survive living under perennial lockdown constituted the most eloquent he’s ever been on the pandemic.

Trump did make a few of those jaw-dropping assertions about a vaccine — that one is coming in a few weeks and or by the end of the year and that two pharmaceutical firms were almost done with one before naming not two but four firms.

That could really come back to bite him over the next few weeks as others in the know throw cold water on these claims and he is forced to defend them.

But where he really drew blood was in returning to the line of attack that helped get him elected — the idea that he had to enter politics because politicians hadn’t done the job.

“You’re all talk and no action,” Trump said to Joe Biden in his best line — and in the best moment of any debate of this cycle. He made sharp and deserved fun of Biden when the he turned to the camera to talk about voters at the kitchen table in order to shift the topic away from corruption and China.

Mostly, though, this debate made it clear what an incredible mistake Trump made in the first debate by behaving like a jerk. Had he been this Trump, rather than that Trump, he would be in a stronger position today.

Trump has been President nearly four years now and Jerk Trump is decidedly the modal Trump. Still, even Podhoretz’ decidedly rose-colored outlook admits it probably wasn’t enough.

But just because Trump did so much better doesn’t mean Biden did worse than he did in the first. He was fine. He didn’t win, but if he lost, he lost on points, and not many points.

The only reed that Podhoretz can grasp is that Trump scored points in fracking and that, combined with an ad blitz, it could put Pennsylvania back in his camp. Fine.

Even Fox News analyst Doug Schoen concedes that one night of quasi-normality is unlikely to stop the bleeding. At best, some Republicans thinking about voting for Biden may have been given pause.

In the second and final presidential debate Thursday night, Americans witnessed a much less raucous, more coherent, and more substantive — in other words, a more normal — discussion than the first debate just three weeks ago.

That being said, it is safe to say the 96-minute exchange between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will likely not fundamentally alter the presidential race. Over 48 million Americans have already voted, and few people remain undecided.

However, in my view, President Trump’s performance was measured, on message, and controlled. Thus, for any remaining undecided voters and Republican-oriented voters who may have been discouraged by the president’s chaotic first debate, Trump’s performance Thursday night likely reassured them and may even have led some to resolve to cast ballots in his favor.

The best hope he can offer Trump supporters is an assertion that Biden’s performance dropped as the debate wore on, suggesting that he’s old and tired. But even he concedes that Trump is going to have a tougher sell than in 2016 of himself as an outsider, what with having been the ultimate insider for four years.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    Today marks the point when we are the same number of days from the election (11) as when the Comey Letter dropped. Hillary’s lead in RCP was 3.3 points smaller than Biden’s is now, and unlike her he’s over 50%, meaning there are far fewer undecided and third-party voters. Even if he were to experience an equivalent collapse in his poll numbers between now and Election Day, he’d still end up with a substantially bigger lead than she had at the end. And that’s without getting into the fact that far more people have already voted than was the case four years ago.

    The only remaining ace up the GOP’s sleeve is massive voter disenfranchisement. Their ability to win legitimately has passed. The only way they’ll be able to remain in power is by ending American democracy.

    22
  2. Paine says:

    “Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better.” – Ed Wood

    7
  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “For the most part, he was focused, contained and determined to get his message across” – John Podhoretz

    “President Trump’s performance was measured, on message, and controlled.” -Doug Schoen

    Daniel Dale
    @ddale8

    From a lying perspective, Trump is even worse tonight than in the first debate.

    Tells you all you need to know about the intellectual level of today’s so called conservatives.

    9
  4. CSK says:

    From The American Spectator: Donald Trump Won the Debate
    From American Thinker: A Calm, Masterful Donald Trump Made Mincemeat of Joe Biden
    From PJ Media: Debate Recap: Donald Trump Was in Command While Biden Told a Bunch of Whoppers
    From The American Spectator: Donald Trump’s Best Debate Ever
    From Fox News: Trump Managed to Drive Debate Despite Welker’s Interruptions
    From Redstate: Donald Trump Owned the Debate Stage–and Joe Biden Along with It–in the Third Presidential Debate

    I couldn’t stomach looking at The Gateway Pundit.

    8
  5. Scott says:

    “We’re rounding the turn, we’re rounding the corner

    Do that enough times you end back where you started.

    10
  6. Teve says:

    @CSK: David Atkins said yesterday that unless you’re doing get out the vote operations, you don’t understand that Republicans expect Trump to win in a landslide. Since the Trumpers are getting their news from the sources you mention, I can see why.

    6
  7. ptfe says:

    @Teve: It’s quite disconcerting to see the GOP fully embracing the fiction. They’ve spent 4 years desperately trying to make all of Trump’s ramblings into their internal truth that they have no connection to external reality.

    Consensus agreement about the debate, from anyone with half a brain, is that Trump lied a ton but didn’t look totally crazy, Biden was fine, and Kristen Welker did an excellent job. That’s not going to move the needle for the prez, so even in the sense that he didn’t blow it…he blew it.

    But that doesn’t match the Trumpinator image these people have constructed, where a muscle-bound strongman with keen business acumen and unbelievable intelligence has arrived to finally take down the pedophile Democrats and their Jewish Globalist cabal of nefarious donors. In that universe, “he didn’t look totally crazy” is him singlehandedly landing on the Bug Planet and winning the war, and “Biden was fine” is Sleepy Joe dropping his own grenade as his feet as usual.

    But hey, who am I to convince them otherwise? These are people who dgaf about anyone else, so it’s not like some rando telling them that their messiah isn’t even a competent con man will change their minds.

    11
  8. Mikey says:

    We’re basically back to “Trump didn’t drop trou and pinch a loaf on the podium so he did fine” stage of things, aren’t we?

    The debates commission actually did him a favor with the whole “mute button” thing, as it forced him to behave and thereby allowed him to deliver his stream of lies in a reasonable-sounding tone.

    15
  9. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    You don’t even have to look at the get out the vote operation. All you have to do is glance at Lucianne.com. All the headlines I quoted above are taken from there.

    They really do claim that they anticipate a landslide for Trump. Maybe deep down they even believe it.

    3
  10. Sleeping Dog says:

    What Trump and his defenders in the punditry mendaciously ignore is that regardless of restrictions placed on business by government, if the restrictions were magically lifted, the economy still wouldn’t come back. Good article at NYT this AM on Iowa, who’s economy is in the tank and never locked down.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/22/business/economy/economy-coronavirus-lockdown-iowa.html

    8
  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @CSK: Well you know, they have THE math.

    1
  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Trump Speaks At Length During Debate In Indecipherable Code Of Far-Right Fever Swamps

    President Donald Trump, who spends much of his time in the right-wing fever swamps of Twitter and TV, has come to speak the language — a reality on full display during the last presidential debate of 2020. But for those of us who don’t live in those worlds, it can be impossible to figure out what he’s talking about.

    In the first hour of the debate, Trump tossed out handfuls of buzzwords for various conspiracy theories, Greek to those who left their Fox News decoders at home.

    But you know, “he was focused, contained and determined to get his message across” and “measured, on message, and controlled.”

    2
  13. “His defense of his coronavirus response and his argument that the country cannot long survive living under perennial lockdown constituted the most eloquent he’s ever been on the pandemic.”

    Podhoretz’s assessment is, shall we say, generous. Or he has an extremely low bar for eloquence.

    I actually watched the whole thing and Trump’s Covid responses were a weird mix of fatalism and fantasy. That is: we are learning to live with it and vaccines will be here soon! So, simultaneously, there is really nothing we can do, but the real solution will be here in mere weeks!

    The amount of work he tries to make the ban on travel from China and things Fauci said six months plus ago is pretty pathetic, TBH.

    11
  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The mendacity…awe inspiring.

    1
  15. Kylopod says:

    @CSK:

    They really do claim that they anticipate a landslide for Trump. Maybe deep down they even believe it.

    And when it fails to materialize, they won’t learn anything from it. Most of us blew it when it came to 2016, but after it happened we acknowledged our error and rethought our previous assumptions (in fact Dems seem to have drifted in the opposite direction, toward chronic pessimism and doubt about their electoral chances). In contrast, the righties are still convinced there was a “red wave” in 2018 (or at least that it wasn’t especially bad), because Senate. And at this point they’re fully prepared to reject the legitimacy of a Biden victory. If Biden manages to win, even if by a landslide, they will view it as a stolen election propelled by massive voter fraud. This is the Q crowd we’re talking about, where every failed prediction is thereafter explained as part of the conspiracy.

    8
  16. An Interested Party says:

    It’s funny how that low bar thing got turned around…as long as Trump wasn’t in a spittle-flecked rage mode like he was in the first debate, he was somehow successful…well, at least his partisan toadies think so…a pity that they aren’t the ones he has to convince to vote for him…

    1
  17. reid says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: In a tweet, Megyn Kelly used the word “substantive” to describe Trump’s performance, which is the least correct word she could have chosen. Apparently, slithering across the low bar he positioned for himself is worthy of any and all accolades.

    I don’t follow Kelly, but I’ve seen some twits that make me wonder if someone’s got something on her. A real Trump sycophant lately.

    1
  18. Kingdaddy says:

    I’m expecting to hear a lot about Biden wanting to end the oil industry in the next several days. His answers on climate and energy were OK, if you knew what he was trying to say. For example, I think he was trying to say, no, I’m not against fracking, because it’s part of a multi-legged energy strategy. However, we do need to work on emissions from fracking. Unfortunately, a lot of people might not have heard that message.

    6
  19. CSK says:

    @Kylopod:
    Indeed. Count me as one of those who was confident Trump would lose in 2016. (I probably even predicted it on this site several times.) Most of the Republicans I knew were as well.

    It never occurred to me that a boob and an oaf such as Trump could be elected president, and it took me a while to grasp viscerally that the majority of his followers either didn’t see him as a boob and an oaf or they actually liked that about him.

    6
  20. Kingdaddy says:

    I really wish that Biden hadn’t been pulled into Trump’s desire to turn the debates into a bitter personal confrontation. Time after time, I was waiting for Biden to say, “OK, Donald Trump just said he doesn’t have a plan for [health care, COVID, climate change, etc. etc.]. The American people want us to be talking about what we’ll do to address important problems. Let’s focus on that.” The back and forth didn’t go anywhere.

    Look confident. Laugh off Trump’s ridiculous obfuscations, distractions, and personal attacks. Move on.

    If I were in Biden’s place, I might also have said, early in the debate, “It’s really sad that you have to have the last word on every topic.”

    4
  21. @Kingdaddy: On the one hand, I agree that that answer will be grist for Trump’s rhetoric mill. On the other, I cannot see it making a lot of difference.

    (But that is my general assessment of the debate in general).

    2
  22. Joe says:

    @Kingdaddy: I was hoping Biden would ask Trump, what will we see first, your tax return or your health care plan? Or is your health care plan an attachment to your tax return?

    Honestly, I cannot imagine anyone outside the Trumpisphere who can hear Trump say he has a health care plan or is waiting for the audit to disclose his tax returns without just tuning the statement out as total bulls–t.

    1
  23. CSK says:

    @Joe:
    Within the Trumpishere, they laud him as the only president to have kept all his promises.

    2
  24. Kingdaddy says:

    @Joe: Yeah, that was another missed opportunity. “Everyone is tired of your check’s-in-the-mail answer about your health care plan. After four years, five if you count your campaign, you still don’t have anything but, at best, a book full of blank pages.”

    3
  25. JKB says:

    Biden doubled down on the “dark winter” assessment of America. This, to me, smacks of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech. More amusing is

    Operation Dark Winter was the code name for a senior-level bio-terrorist attack simulation conducted from June 22-23, 2001.

    and that comes up when you search for Biden’s use of the term.

    But then Biden also brought up his plan to return to the “rehab not jail”, which anyone who experienced the 1970s crime and decline isn’t likely to resonate. City dwellers should brace for yet another damaging storm.

  26. CSK says:

    @JKB:

    “…brace for yet another storm.”

    Be careful there. Someone will take that as a QAnon reference.

    Is it?

    5
  27. Kylopod says:

    @JKB:

    This, to me, smacks of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech.

    Quick Quiz. Who said the following? Carter or Reagan?

    “I think when you make that decision, it might be well if you would ask yourself, are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe, that we’re as strong as we were four years ago? And if you answer all of those questions yes, why then, I think your choice is very obvious as to whom you will vote for. If you don’t agree, if you don’t think that this course that we’ve been on for the last four years is what you would like to see us follow for the next four, then I could suggest another choice that you have. This country doesn’t have to be in the shape that it is in. We do not have to go on sharing in scarcity with the country getting worse off.”

    6
  28. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Kylopod: I don’t believe the the polling forecasts were blown in 2016. Trump had about the same change of victory as Lebron James has of making a contested 3pt shot (low 30-ish %) Today–he has the same chance of victory as Greek Freak hitting a 3pt shot (high 20-ish %). Those weren’t (and aren’t) hail-mary type percentages.

    To your larger point about grieved righties– I know its not the type liberal instinct–but persuasion is the tool to deal with these people. They respect power–even power they disagree with. You have to do what needs to be done–fuck ’em. The majority of the losers of the Civil Rights era were not persuaded that Black Lives Matter–their kids and grandkids (mostly) were–but not them. They simply retreated into the basement. Trumpers are who they are–they need to be beaten into the basement. They won’t want to be there–but they will respect that you beat them into it. The Republicans that respected persuasion are called Never Trumpers and Biden Democrats.

    6
  29. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @JKB: Smacks—yes… you should be. Often

    4
  30. Kylopod says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I don’t believe the the polling forecasts were blown in 2016.

    I basically agree, and it’s been discussed here before, so I won’t go into detail about it again. Harry Enten of 538 a few days before the election posted an article titled “Trump is just a normal polling error behind Clinton.” The signs of a potential Trump victory were there. It’s just most people couldn’t see it, because as @CSK noted above, people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of Trump winning. That resulted in confirmation bias so that when people looked at the polls, they misinterpreted Clinton’s modest polling advantage as proof that she couldn’t lose, even though that wasn’t what the data showed.

    6
  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB: which anyone who experienced the 1970s crime and decline isn’t likely to resonate. City dwellers should brace for yet another damaging storm.

    As one who was around then and lived in the heart of the city I well remember how bad it wasn’t and never has been. “Crime in the city” has always been and always will be a racist dog whistle to stir up fear among suburban whites. And hear you are singing the same old song.

    7
  32. @JKB:

    Biden doubled down on the “dark winter” assessment of America. This, to me, smacks of Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech.

    And the sitting President of the United States who is running for re-election described an America rife with policy failures.

    Do you really not see that? (Yes, I know the answer).

    16
  33. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Well, there are a lot of evidence of the failure of Progressive policies over the last 50, even 80 years. The Great Society has destroyed the black as well as other communities that it “helped”.

    On the other hand

    Scott Adams
    @ScottAdamsSays Oct 22
    How would you like to run for president against an incumbent who did so well on foreign policy that the debates don’t even need to include that topic? That’s actually happening.

    Trump has been different in that so-far he’s the only president in the last 40 years not to invade another country. And he put an end to ISIS controlling territory larger than many US states.

  34. gVOR08 says:

    @JKB: There’s no point to debating Trump’s foreign policy because no one, especially Trump, knows what it is from one day to the next.

    6
  35. mattbernius says:

    I am shocked that our resident John Bircher thinks that this is all the Democrats fault and that a crime wave is just around the corner.

    But then Biden also brought up his plan to return to the “rehab not jail”, which anyone who experienced the 1970s crime and decline isn’t likely to resonate. City dwellers should brace for yet another damaging storm.

    Of course, this completely ignores that while Mass Incarceration is continuing to bankrupt states,
    Urban crime remains, in general historically low. Yes there have been some upticks in recent years, but nothing like the 1970’s.

    As I keep having to point out, where crime has been trending most up is in Rural Areas (https://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-crime-rural-urban-cities.html). And has been for quite some time. And given that the majority of that is often drug related, and we want system impacted people to be able to reenter society, maybe, just maybe, proven drug crime mitigation techniques should be used.

    But hey, you do your 1970’s minority crime panic stuff. I’m betting it isn’t going to be as effective a dog whistle this time around.

    6
  36. An Interested Party says:

    Well, there are a lot of evidence of the failure of Progressive policies over the last 50, even 80 years.

    Oh yes, please let Republicans go forward with a message that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are “failures” and see how far they get with that message…

    7
  37. mattbernius says:

    BTW, for those who are interested, Reason’s run down of the two candidate’s Criminal Legal System policies is solid and worth the read.

    https://reason.com/2020/10/22/on-criminal-justice-trump-and-biden-are-running-against-their-own-records/

    I also appreciate that Biden has been willing to strongly state that the 1984 crime bill was a mistake and had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. Simply hearing any politician say “I was wrong” was nice for once.

    7
  38. Not the IT Dept. says:

    For those who think Biden hurt himself in Texas, please check out this article from February 2020:

    https://electrek.co/2020/02/21/texas-leads-the-us-in-wind-power-and-now-its-ramping-up-solar-too/

    So maybe Texas is way past that yahoo-cowboy oil fixation of the past 100 years. It may not be blue yet but it’s definitely looking green.

    6
  39. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: For what it’s worth. This morning the poll at the end of the article on the debate had a question about what effect the debate would have on the outcome of the election. The result at the time I was on the site was 100% for “no effect at all.”

    I know that these types of polls are not very accurate, but that everyone agreed on no effect seems significant to some degree even though the poll is self-selecting. Too large to completely discount.

    2
  40. Jen says:

    What JKB fails to realize is how hard the opioid crisis has hit middle- and upper-class families. “Rehab not jail” is a suburban issue now, not an urban one.

    New Hampshire–mostly rural and 94% white–has had a horrible time with opioids. But it really hit home when normal, happy, suburban high school kids got prescribed these pills for school sports injuries and then became addicted.

    This was a HUGE issue in the 2016 primary here (and, what led Trump to describe New Hampshire as a “drug-infested den”).

    Biden’s statement about rehab will be very appealing to those suburban moms Trump is chasing after (unironically).

    9
  41. gVOR08 says:

    Actually, I think the first was a better debate. What are we trying to accomplish? Is the goal to have nice polite academic style debate, or are we trying to inform the electorate? I would argue this second debate was too constrained, the first allowed people to see the candidates for what they are. Let Trump be Trump.

    3
  42. Kathy says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    I’m expecting to hear a lot about Biden wanting to end the oil industry in the next several days.

    The oil industry will end either when there’s no more oil to be extracted, or when we devise a cheaper means for synthesizing organic molecules without hydrocarbons.

    The fossil fuel industry, which is the major part of the oil industry today, will end much sooner than that, maybe within three decades. This will hurt many oil companies, and that’s what bothers so many politicians and oil industry types.

    Oil is the basis of plastics, as is well known, but also of many other products, from lubricants to pharmaceuticals. All through elementary school, there wasn’t a year when the official natural sciences textbook did not list and extol all the many uses of oil. We’ll keep on using oil for that, and perhaps for other things, as the end of oil as fuel will leave a large excess of oil behind.

    3
  43. mattbernius says:

    @Jen:

    What JKB fails to realize is how hard the opioid crisis has hit middle- and upper-class families. “Rehab not jail” is a suburban issue now, not an urban one.

    Very much this. It’s also, to some degree, why the attacks on Hunter Biden (or at least his substance dependency issues) hasn’t resonated the way it might have a decade or two ago.

    5
  44. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:

    “…the evidence of failure of Progressive policies over the last 50, even 80 years.”

    Well indeed; it’s self evident!
    Look at the catastrophic collapse of California, New York and Massachusts, compared to the wondrous prosperity of, say, Tennessee.
    Or internationally, look at how such welfare states as Germany, Japan, Israel, South Korea, Ireland or indeed almost any other country in the “West” are dystopias that rival Mad Max for their chaotic squalor.

    “Trump has been different in that so-far he’s the only president in the last 40 years not to invade another country.”

    Yes, all those other presidents getting up in the morning and saying to their Secretary of State
    “Klytus, I’m bored. What play thing can you offer me today?”

    Actually, I can think of one other president who also contents for that pize: your undoubted hero Jimmy Carter. LOL.

    “And he put an end to ISIS controlling territory larger than many US states.”

    Oh please.
    Stop living in a fantasy.
    It is perfectly plain that the main damage to ISIS was inflicted in 2016; just take a cursory glance at their territorial control and the estimated casualties.
    After that, Trump merely left the remnants to be ground to nothing between the anvil of the Kurds and the hammer of the Iranians and their allies.
    And then betrayed the Kurds, an act that will be long remembered.

    Plus such other triumphs as:
    the continuing North Korean nuclear/ballistic programmes,
    the collapse of the TPP as a means of economic constraint upon China,
    the antagonistic relations with western Europeans
    etc
    etc.

    2
  45. @JKB:

    Well, there are a lot of evidence of the failure of Progressive policies over the last 50, even 80 years. The Great Society has destroyed the black as well as other communities that it “helped”.

    A fabulous dodge with bonus points for doing so with an extremely tired right-wing talking point.

    4
  46. @JKB:

    On the other hand

    Scott Adams
    @ScottAdamsSays Oct 22
    How would you like to run for president against an incumbent who did so well on foreign policy that the debates don’t even need to include that topic? That’s actually happening.

    Trump/Trump supporters whining about debate topics is like the guy who killed his parents seeking clemency because he is an orphan. Trump was the one that screwed up the debate schedule and therefore limited the opportunities for a full exploration of topics.

    Trump has been different in that so-far he’s the only president in the last 40 years not to invade another country.

    And, I will admit, that is one of the few things I can give him credit for. Shame he has been otherwise working to destablize the world order.

    5
  47. mattbernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Steven L. Taylor: I agree that the President not invading another country, despite threats, is a thing that Trump deserves praise for.

    However that praise is definitely need by his significant expansion of the drone war and his removal of just about all transparency from the program.

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/22/obama-drones-trump-killings-count/

    https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/2019/5/8/18619206/under-donald-trump-drone-strikes-far-exceed-obama-s-numbers

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  48. JohnSF says:

    @mattbernius:

    …not invading another country … deserves praise

    That’s not an absolute standard.
    President Franklin Delano Roosevelt invaded other countries. Does he deserve blame?
    President Wilson?
    President Truman?

    Avoiding unecessary military action is doubtless praiseworthy; judging exactly when they are unnecessary at the time can be more problematic.

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  49. mattbernius says:

    @JohnSF:
    When it comes to foreign interventions, I’m typically aligned with Daniel Larison’s brand of paleo-conservative FP. But looking at your list — Roosevelt, Wilson, and Truman — brings up a couple points. First, it seems like you need to go back close to 70 years to find an example of what you appear to consider “a good invasion.” So that alone is telling.

    Beyond that–and without getting into the thorny topic of the justifications for the US joining WWI– in thoses cases we were largely dealing with invasions based on formal declarations of war.

    However, I’ll go onto note that by the end of his presidency, Truman began a pattern that continued to this day of beginning invasions unilaterally without congressional approval. It also marked our first “War” without an actual declaration of war. In doing so it formed the basis for a major (and arguably unconsitutional) extension of presidential power which we are dealing with to this day.

    So I’m not sure he’s a particularly great counter example.

  50. JohnSF says:

    Well, they aren’t the only examples.
    They were just examples.

    (BTW, Roosevelt was effectively waging undeclared war in the Atlantic in 1941)
    There are quite a few others I would argue were “good”; though whether they classify as invasions is another question.
    Gulf War 1990
    Bosnian War intervention
    Kosovo War intervention
    Grenada
    Iraq NFZ enforcement/Desert Fox
    Afghanistan 2001

    I would personally prefer declarations of war; but in some cases they are inapplicable (just as they were in the Indian Wars); in others they are avoided both to avoid a congressional involvement, which in my opinion would place unrealistic limits on executive power; or to side-step the application of UN Article Charter 2(4) which may also be a practical necessity.

    Constitutional mechanisms appropriate to a relatively weak federal republic in north east America are inappropriate to a global superpower with hegemonic responsibilities.