Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Debate

A national nightmare that may not have changed many minds.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News speaks as President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Few who have been paying attention were expecting a civil, meaningful dialog between the two men with a chance of winning the next election for President of the United States. We saw Donald Trump bully and name-call his way through the 2016 debates and Joe Biden is sadly well past his prime as a public speaker. But, holy hell, last night’s showdown was simply an embarrassment.

POLITICO founding editor John Harris headlines his report “An Epic Moment of National Shame: The Debate Was an Embarrassment for the Ages.”

At frequent intervals on Tuesday night, the natural human reaction—lower the sound, wince and look away—took over, and the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election became nearly unwatchable.

Those who did persist in watching were rewarded, in a perverse way: They witnessed history in the making. The proceeding was an epic spectacle, a new low in presidential politics, a new high watermark in national shame.

The stain will be visible for many years to come. It will serve as a reminder of the night the dam broke, and currents of contempt that have been building in public life for many years flooded the stage with tens of millions of Americans viewing President Donald Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, and an overwhelmed moderator on live television.

General election debates—which have been a recurring feature of elections since 1960 and an institutional fixture since 1976—had been until Tuesday one of the few dimensions of the nation’s public life to preserve a certain aura of solemnity. That changed in the opening moments of the Cleveland debate.

The 90-plus minutes that followed were an almost perfect distillation of the politics of insult, indignation, interruption, and irrelevancy that are commonplace on talk radio, on cable news, on Twitter.

There is no mystery why this happened. Trump plainly arrived to shred the official debate rules, and shed any pretense of decorum. At numerous points, his honking interruptions blared without interruption. So did his putdowns, including mocking Biden’s performance in college 56 years ago—“You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class,” before adding, “There’s nothing smart about you, Joe.” He also brought up Hunter Biden’s drug problems and inaccurately said he received a dishonorable discharge from the Navy.

Trump’s barrage left Biden with a choice. He could draw a contrast by deferring to the rules and trying to appear patient and polite. He did that some of the time. Or he could try to embrace the spirit of the evening in what often sounded like a saloon argument, at the moment when the bartender is trying decide whether things are about to turn physical and he should call the cops.

“Will you shut up, man?” Biden challenged Trump, before lamenting, “This is so unpresidential.” Biden’s most vivid noun of the evening was clown. “Folks, do you have any idea what this clown’s doing?” he asked the audience. Later, as moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News tried with scant success to curb Trump’s speaking, Biden said, “It’s hard to get a word in with this clown.”

The whole thing was surreal.

Because my expectations were so low, I thought through the first half hour or so that Trump was winning simply by coming across as energetic and lucid. To the extent that he had a message, he was staying on it. But, ultimately, he simply demonstrated yet again the he’s a man unfit to lead a superpower.

We’ll have to wait for a few days of polling to see whether it made any impact on the race. The results of the venerable Frank Lutz focus group, alas, is not encouraging. The POLITICO headline “Undecided voters call Trump ‘unhinged’ and ‘un-American’ — but unswayed by debate” really says it all. One would think that being unhinged and un-American would rather disqualify someone from, you know, running America.

After watching the first presidential debate Tuesday night, undecided voters from battleground states across the country still had plenty they wanted to know about coronavirus, racial injustice and what each candidate would do to unite the country.

Out of 15 undecided voters in a virtual focus group conducted by veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz, four said they were supporting Democratic nominee Joe Biden after watching the debate and two backed President Donald Trump. The rest remained on the fence. There were nine men and six women and they hailed from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Nevada.

“You just saw 90 minutes. How can you still be undecided?” an incredulous Luntz asked. “Please explain that to me?”

Luntz is easily the most famous focus group moderator in the country (granted, not a competitive category) but that’s almost exactly the question I would have had.

Despite their indecisiveness, most described Trump in a negative light, including one of the participants who was leaning toward voting for the president. The voters characterized Trump as “unhinged,” “arrogant,” “forceful”, a “bully,” “chaotic” and “un-American.”

When asked to describe Biden they offered: “better than expected,” “politician,” “compassion,” “coherent,” and a “nice guy lacking vision.”

Frankly, that should be enough to decide the question of who should have the ability to order nuclear war, no?

The roughly four voters who ended the night in Biden’s corner were stunned by Trump’s performance. Ruthie, a voter from Pennsylvania, described it as trying to “win an argument with a crackhead.”

Joe from Arizona said he entered the night leaning Biden and after the debate decided to vote for the former vice president. Trump didn’t defend his record on the unrest in American cities and protests, he said. “He inflames a lot of anger in this country,” said Joe. And on the pandemic, he said, Trump “couldn’t defend his record on slow walking” the government’s response.

Luke from Wisconsin was one of the two participants to say he’s now voting for Trump. “Trump is annoying, he’s unpresidential,” Luke said, but on the economy and “law and order” he trusts Trump. Luke said he doesn’t want to be “afraid” for his community, pointing to riots in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, which left Blake paralyzed.

Granting that “undecided voter” is a euphemism for moron, one would think Luke would realize that the rioting in Kenosha took place while Trump was President.

The majority of the focus group remained undecided after the lengthy, chaotic debate. Many put a greater onus on Biden to deliver strong answers than Trump — excusing the president’s behavior as “typical” or just Trump being Trump.

Travis of Arizona said the few times Biden tried to land a jab on Trump “he whiffed.”

Joe in North Carolina appeared to be leaning toward Biden after the debate but still wasn’t sure — Trump and Republicans’ constant attacks on the Democratic nominee as “senile” or “sleepy” had gotten to him.

Biden won the debate, Joe said, because “there was no significant gaffe.”

In fairness, we have over the years trained Americans that the way to judge debates is on gaffes and one-liners. Still, it’s depressing that people are undecided about whether to re-elect a man who they describe as an awful human being President on the basis that the only alternative failed to land a good line during 90 minutes when the other guy wouldn’t shut up.

Kimberly from Ohio, the only Black person in the focus group, wanted to hear more about race relations and expressed frustration that little was said about Congress and the Trump administration’s inability to reach a deal on stimulus relief. “You still have millions of Americans out there who can’t even feed their families,” she said.

Kimberly is focused on arguably the most pressing issues facing the country right now, so kudos to her. But, again, she’s watched Trump preside over the entire mess. What more information does she need?

A noticeable number of the undecideds were struck by Biden’s defiance when pressed by Trump about the progressive, left flank of the Democratic Party. And many said they wanted to hear more about efforts to unify the country from both candidates — a handful ended the evening thinking Biden would fashion a more diverse, bipartisan administration.

“My biggest concern about Biden going in and just throughout the whole primary was the radical left, so to speak, taking over the party,” said Joe of Arizona. But Biden’s answer convinced him otherwise. Now, he said, he planned to vote for the Democrat.

Biden’s declaration that he is the Democratic Party and the one who is deciding the platform, stood out to Jeremy from Arizona. That negated Trump’s attack that the Democrat would be a tool of progressive lawmakers like liberal star like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) Even so, Jeremy said he remained undecided.

“I do not want another AOC, but I also don’t want someone all the way to the right either,” said Jeremy. “What I want to see in the next two debates is why should Joe be elected? Not why I shouldn’t vote for Trump. Trump’s not presidential — we’ve gotten that.”

Similarly, Mike from Iowa said Biden’s “best answer” of the night came when he talked about unity. Mike wanted more information about who Biden would select for his cabinet and if it would be bipartisan rather than dominated by progressive picks.

“Just tell us whose it’s going to be. That would help, that would go a long way,” he said.

For low-information voters, that’s not unreasonable. They probably didn’t pay much attention during the Democratic nominating process. Still, given that Trump has worked so hard to further the divide in the country, it’s remarkable that the onus is on the challenger to demonstrate that he would be better at generating unity.

When asked by POLITICO about Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists, roughly five of the 15 said it was a moment that stood out to them across an otherwise hard to follow debate.

“That was definitely his worst moment,” said Travis of Arizona, who remained undecided after the debate. “That’s like the easiest thing that he could do.”

Nick of Arizona, also picked it as the “worst moment” of the night for Trump.

“I don’t really think he’s some big racist, but I guess I don’t really know,” he said.

Earlier in the focus group, Nick had mentioned Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists as an example of Trump’s behavior that “makes it so hard for you to able to tell anyone that you’re voting for him.”

Kimberly from Ohio also raised her hand when asked if that part of the night stood out.

At separate points throughout the discussion, she described Biden as someone who was “more approachable” and with an “open ear to talk about race relations without becoming offensive.”

But ultimately, she remained undecided.

“Being a Black woman, they did not say how they were going to improve race relations with black people,” she said. “I’m undecided. And from my community, it’s a lot of us who are undecided because it’s darned if we do and darned if we don’t, what do we get? We don’t get anything from this system.”

Kimberly’s not wrong. But, again, we have pretty strong evidence as to who Trump is at this point. Why not give the dude who won the nomination on the strength of his decades-long relationship with Black Democrats and who chose a woman of color as his running mate a shot?

And, damn, Nick. What more evidence do you need? The Proud Boys understood Trump’s shout out.

The only good news here is that Biden clearly wasn’t hurt by the debate. Given that he has a rather significant and steady lead for months, that means Trump is the one who needed to make up ground. It doesn’t look like that happened.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 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. Mikey says:

    At frequent intervals on Tuesday night, the natural human reaction—lower the sound, wince and look away—took over, and the first presidential debate of the 2020 general election became nearly unwatchable.

    Nearly?

    The Proud Boys understood Trump’s shout out.

    After hearing him say that, I’m convinced if Trump loses the election he will call out to the Proud Boys and other far-right groups and employ them as his personal Sturmabteilung.

    Oh, who am I kidding, he’ll probably do that if he wins, too.

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  2. wr says:

    If you have a scoreless third quarter in a football game, you could say that neither side made any progress in the quarter. But if one team is down eight points at the half, then both sides failing to score merely moves the losing side closer to defeat.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    Like most of us, I don’t know what else there is to say about that shitshow. I think the CBS post debate poll sums it up perfectly:

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/first-debate-biden-trump-who-won-cbs-news-poll/

    Respondents felt Biden won at more or less the same rate as his aggregate national polling average.

    At the same time motivated Trump supporters will be posting here about how they felt that he clearly won this debate handily.

    I think the only real question is what happens with the less motivated Republican-leaning voters like Nick. I suspect his answer tells us what he will choose to do (and then not talk about publicly).

    Earlier in the focus group, Nick had mentioned Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists as an example of Trump’s behavior that “makes it so hard for you to able to tell anyone that you’re voting for him.”

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  4. Scott says:

    Granting that “undecided voter” is a euphemism for moron

    Now that was my first laugh of the day.

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  5. ptfe says:

    @mattbernius:
    “Well, he framed me for armed robbery, but man, I’m aching for that upper-class tax cut.”

    At this point, the Right never fails to pick the least moral choice in service to cold, hard cash.

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  6. mattbernius says:

    @ptfe:
    Oh come now, at least some of his supporters are in it for the ethnonationalism and ethnic/racial animus.

    Beyond the Proud Boys moment, it was especially telling how Trump’s response to the question on race relations was to pivot to talking about policing.

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  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Why’d you bother?

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  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “nice guy lacking vision.”

    If that is the primary image that viewers left with, Biden can lose this easily. If that’s the primary image of Biden, it’s understandable why most are still undecided. Kimberly is wondering what’s the point. She’s onto something.

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Why’d you bother?

    I’ve avoided so much of the coverage this cycle. At some point, it feels like a civic duty to watch. But there’s certainly not much upside.

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  10. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Honestly, “nice guy lacking vision” is pretty much my assessment of Biden at this stage of his career. Given the alternative, I’ll take it enthusiastically.

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  11. Trump showed what he is. We’ve long known what he is. It’s never really been about Trump, that wasn’t what scared me on election night 2016, it’s the people who are frightening. Anyone still supporting Trump is a racist piece of shit, and no American. That’s at least 4 in 10 voters. That’s how sick this country is. That’s how depraved the Republican Party is.

    That said, did Trump make progress last night in PA, OH, WI or MI? Did he move the needle in FL, GA, TX or AZ? No. Biden did, granted, by default.

    Right now Biden is sitting on enough EV’s to win. Trump has to take every single R-leaning state and every toss-up state, and take at least one of the D-leaners. More likely, IMO, he may have pushed NC over the line to Biden, maybe Georgia, maybe even Texas.

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  12. Paine says:

    That was multi-dimensional clusterfu*k of epic, Gilgamesh proportions. A dumpster fire doing performative art as a sh*t-show. I turned it off after about 30 minutes. And I always watch the debates out of a sense of civic obligation, but I just couldn’t put myself through that. Trump’s willingness to sh*t all over anything for even the slightest personal benefit is just infuriating and exhausting. And imagine you are a parent using last night’s debate as your young child’s first lesson in civics. I don’t even care about the post-debate winners and losers spin or best zingers clips. America lost last night and they should cancel the remaining presidential debates.

    From what I did see, Biden looked really shaky. He was very slow on his feet and often overwhelmed by what he was going through. I can easily see the Trump team using footage from last night to put together a “If Biden can’t stand up to Trump, how can he stand up to Putin and Xi” campaign.

    What really concerns me though is that Trump doesn’t act like someone who needs to actually win the election. It’s like they’ve gamed out election night and are confident in a few state legislators and SCOTUS to come to his rescue. It was observed on Twitter that not once did Trump encourage people to vote for him.

    Dark days ahead.

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  13. mattbernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Kimberly is wondering what’s the point.

    I think she is wondering, somewhat fairly, why Black Folks and other PoC are going to have to, yet again, save the country from angry white folks without college degrees yet again while continuing to get little progress on the issues they care about (like systemic racism, over-policing, poor medical care, etc) in return.

    I cannot say I blame then.

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  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: For me, “nice guy lacking vision” simply reinforces how little investment I have in giving a fwk about which party is in charge. Joe Biden won’t be an embarrassment. Mitch and the boys will commit to making another “one-term presidency.” How does it matter who is elected then?

    And yes, I get that you’re embarrassed to be a conservative because of Trump. The only difference between you and me is that I became embarrassed being a conservative during Reagan. You were a child then, so we can’t expect you to notice. Still, Reagan was peak conservative/Republican and the road from the mountaintop is always downhill.

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  15. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Paine:

    It’s like they’ve gamed out election night and are confident in a few state legislators and SCOTUS to come to his rescue.

    This. My greatest fear, as it spells the end of democracy.

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  16. Scott F. says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: and @James Joyner:
    “nice guy lacking vision.”

    Um… For any decent human being, opposing white supremacy is sufficient vision.

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  17. CSK says:

    @Scott:
    I don’t believe there are any undecided voters. At this point, in describing yourself as an undecided voter, what you’re really saying is “”I’m voting for Trump, but I’m too afraid/embarrassed to say so publicly.”

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  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott F.: Yes, running for “decent human being,” being opposed to white supremacy is sufficient vision. I would have hoped for more when the job is President.

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  19. mattbernius says:

    While I’m sure that a poster is eventually going to explain to us how Trump clearly and succinctly opposed white supremacy, the fact is that even Fox and Friends will tell you that dog doesn’t hunt:

    Brian Kilmeade: “Donald Trump ruined the biggest layup in the history of debates by not condemning white supremists. I don’t know if he didn’t hear it, but he’s gotta clarify that right away. … Why the president didn’t just knock it out of the park, I’m not sure.”

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  20. Kathy says:

    I lasted about six or 7 minutes, before I switched the TV to yet another repeat of DC Super Hero Girls, then I turned it off.

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  21. SteveCanyon says:

    I find the comment by “undecided voter” Nick interesting. I expect Nick has been a Trump supporter in the past so at some level he either agrees with or accepts Trump’s racist views. After all it’s not like Trump has hid them. Now Trump has given him a problem. Supporting Trump means being explicitly, proudly racist. He wants to vote for Trump but doesn’t like the look.

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  22. Steven L. Taylor says:

    @mattbernius:

    Why the president didn’t just knock it out of the park, I’m not sure.”

    Well, I am pretty damn sure why.

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  23. MarkedMan says:

    Forget Trump for a minute. Look at the Republican Party, which controls the Supreme Court and the Senate, and more than half the state legislatures in the country. Their Party leader just told the whole country that he wants white supremacists to keep him in power at the barrel of the gun regardless of the outcome of the vote. And the Republicans will, at best, do nothing to defend the country, to uphold their oaths of office. And all too many of them will do much worse than that.

    Forget Trump. The Republican Party chose Trump as their leader and have supported him virtually 100% in every degradation he has foisted upon us. It has become so corrupt that I fear we are headed for a real shooting war. That’s not an exaggeration. And they will be on the side of the wannabe dictator.

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  24. KM says:

    @SteveCanyon:

    Supporting Trump means being explicitly, proudly racist. He wants to vote for Trump but doesn’t like the look.

    Nick and the other “undecideds” are showing off who they really are – they WANT to be able to vote for Trump but he’s not giving them a justification they can square with his insanity and juvenile behavior. They like what he’s doing and what he represents – all vileness either ignored or a feature – but are having a hard time squaring the circle with their preferred reality. Denial, stubbornness and cognitive dissonance go a long way to seeing what a dumpster fire Trump is but still thinking he’s a viable choice.

    People don’t like to admit they’re wrong. People don’t like to admit they’re jerks or have flawed beliefs and worldviews. They don’t want to admit they’re going to toss their lot in with this petulant brat because he’ll do what their darkest little desires whisper he will. They’re “undecided” because they don’t want to admit in public he’s their guy and take the social stigma. They’re not “undecided” – they’re Nick but don’t want to be judged by society for their horrible choice.

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  25. charon says:

    I watched the first half-hour then could not take it any longer, too unpleasant, so back to the computer to web surf.

    I did leave the TV on though (in the same room) so I heard the rest although not paying close attention.

    I did watch some post-debate on MSNBC, the strong primary consensus takeaway there was the whole thing was super unpleasant to watch because of Donald’s rude behavior, not letting Biden talk, talking over him.

    I too think that that is what will be most remembered, how unpleasant Donald can be and typically is.

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  26. James Joyner says:

    @CSK:

    I don’t believe there are any undecided voters. At this point, in describing yourself as an undecided voter, what you’re really saying is “”I’m voting for Trump, but I’m too afraid/embarrassed to say so publicly.”

    No, I don’t think that’s it. A lot of people aren’t partisans or particularly ideological and simply want to vote FOR someone rather than AGAINST someone. Obama gave Democrats that, especially in 2008, in a way Clinton didn’t in 2016 and Biden isn’t this cycle.

    I suspect that Kimberly will vote for Biden. She’s just not excited about it. And, like @mattbernius, I don’t blame her.

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  27. charon says:

    ” … The results of the venerable Frank Lutz focus group, alas, is not encouraging. … ”

    No quote button.

    I do not put much stock in the whims of 15 morons chosen by Frank Luntz. Main impacts will be:

    A) What viewers themselves have seen.

    B) What the pundits have to say, influencing people.

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  28. Northerner says:

    Granting that “undecided voter” is a euphemism for moron,

    I suspect a lot of very intelligent people are undecided (on whether they’re going to bother voting, or which 3rd party they’re going to vote for). Just as a lot of very intelligent people are undecided on whether AI is going to help or end the human race (some pretty smart guys including Stephen Hawkings, Bill Gates and Elon Musk thinks its one of humanities greatest danger), whether genetically modified foods are good or bad, whether nuclear power is dangerous or a partial solution to global warming.

    Our lives are busy, and there are simply too many important issues for anyone to understand them all — the result is a lot of very intelligent people have no interest in things that can have a great affect on their lives, and politics is just one of many things in that category (and arguably less important than some of the scientific ones).

    However, if you mean people who plan on voting for either Democrats or Republicans, yes its hard to imagine anyone being undecided at this point.

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  29. gVOR08 says:

    I watched the whole thing. I’m probably glad I did. Had I not witnessed it, it would be hard to believe it was really that bad.

    Undecideds are one thing. I would hope that spitshow will motivate a few more young Ds to actually vote and a few Trump supporters that going to the polls on Nov 3 is inconvenient.

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  30. mattbernius says:

    Man, even Tim Scott isn’t sure he can carry the water on this one:

    Sen. Tim Scott on Trump telling the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" at last night's debate: "I think he misspoke. I think he should correct it. If he doesn't correct it, I guess he didn't misspeak."— Geoff Bennett (@GeoffRBennett) September 30, 2020

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  31. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    No, I don’t think that’s it. A lot of people aren’t partisans or particularly ideological and simply want to vote FOR someone rather than AGAINST someone.

    An interview with undecideds on NPR raised another possibility for that group: they are deciding whether or not to vote at all. Two of the three people on the segment stated that, at least for the moment, the debate convinced them not to vote.

    I think that is an understandable option for a lot of people who consider themselves undecideds. It’s also one that that was far enough outside my thinking/mental model of civics that I totally missed it until now.

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  32. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Forget Trump. The Republican Party chose Trump as their leader and have supported him virtually 100% in every degradation he has foisted upon us. It has become so corrupt that I fear we are headed for a real shooting war. That’s not an exaggeration. And they will be on the side of the wannabe dictator.

    Of course that’s not an exaggeration.

    How could anyone paying attention listen to the rhetoric from both Trump and AG Barr over the last several weeks or witness the example from earlier this year with militia showing up at the Statehouse in Lansing to answer the call to Liberate Michigan see this as an exaggeration.

    For those who have been gaming the 2020 election out, a Biden blow-out is the only way the country avoids major chaos, while armed, white nationalist insurrection is a real possibility. Trump isn’t being coy about what he wants to see, either. As Kamala Harris has said since the debate, “This is a president, you know, people talk about dog whistling. Dog whistling through a bullhorn is what he is doing.”

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  33. KM says:

    @Northerner :

    I suspect a lot of very intelligent people are undecided (on whether they’re going to bother voting, or which 3rd party they’re going to vote for).

    I must quibble with this. At this point, being undecided on whether to “bother” voting or choosing 3rd parties means one is not intelligent as one thinks. Your opinion of the system and its efficacy aside, being undecided at this point indicates a problem with the *voter*, not their choices. Navel gazing and purity ponies is exactly how we got into this mess in the first place; people refusing to understand their abhorrence of the binary system just allows terrible people to manipulate it to terrible end goals. We got the worst of all options because enough people decided to stay home, pick another choice or “just weren’t sure” they could make themselves vote for that woman. Now we’re seeing it happen all over again, only with 200+K people dead and the evidence of what Trump’s capable of……. but still “hmmm, I’m not sure?” is in play?

    Nope, the original statement stands. “Undecided voter” at this point mean moron, regardless of your IQ score. No excuses like “we’re busy” give you a pass – you MAKE the time if it’s important. The truth is people like that don’t consider this important enough to give a damn and considering the stakes for the entire planet, that makes them very, VERY stupid indeed.

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  34. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius: For our dear confused undecideds, if there was ever a time to vote AGAINST someone, 2020 is that time.

    After Trump’s activation of the Proud Boys last night, I can’t agree that not voting is an understandable position. JFK used to reference Dante with a favorite quote, ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.’ Not participating is conceding this time around.

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  35. Joe says:

    I have seen a lot of comments about Biden turning to the camera. Curiously, I watched most of the debate on the NPR feed and they very purposely had one camera set behind Wallace that showed the whole stage. From that angle, it looked like Biden didn’t know where the camera was and was very disconcerting. I changed feeds late in the debate where the candidates were mostly on split screen and it was a hugely different impression of Biden’s level of engagement. Those small production choices make a big difference.

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  36. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @mattbernius: Multiple studies have shown that negative campaigning actually depresses turnout–which is a Plus for Trump.

    This is part of their strategy.

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  37. MarkedMan says:

    @KM:

    the binary system just allows terrible people to manipulate it to terrible end goals.

    I don’t accept that and offer as proof one Paul Le Page, twice elected government of Maine by a minority of voters because there was more than one viable opponent on the ticket and the vote got split. The Trumpers all voted for their lunatic (Le Page) and so he was able to trash Maine for two terms.

    That is not an infrequent occurrence.

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  38. mattbernius says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    100%. As folks noted, the President at no point asked for encouraged people to vote for him. I think there’s a pretty strong argument that his strategy for last night, as seen in his closing comments, was to do everything he could to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process.

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  39. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: “If that is the primary image that viewers left with, Biden can lose this easily. If that’s the primary image of Biden, it’s understandable why most are still undecided. Kimberly is wondering what’s the point. ”

    It’s not the primary image that viewers left with. It’s the primary image that ONE VIEWER left with.

    It’s bad enough that all the networks are slavering to interview people too stupid to understand the difference between Biden and Trump. Let’s not take one person’s individual stupidity and assume it applies to any but the tiniest of minorities.

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  40. gVOR08 says:

    Come on guys, this is brilliant 11 dimensional chess. Trump sure drove Trump’s taxes out of the news.

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  41. Teve says:

    Luntz is easily the most famous focus group moderator in the country (granted, not a competitive category) but that’s almost exactly the question I would have had.

    Kara Swisher did an interview with Elon Musk. Scott Galloway asked her, who is he voting for, and she said he’s undecided, he’s waiting for the debates. Galloway’s response was basically what the fuck is wrong with him?

    Elon is a very smart guy who’s also completely insane.

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  42. BugManDan says:

    I thought that nothing would shock me in this debate. Trump would be Trump. Biden would be competent and probably boring.

    But while I should know better, I was shocked with the white supremacist comment. That question seemed to be an easy lob, even for Trump, from a Fox host. The nazis would have understood if he condemned white supremacists. But no,they are now selling t-shirts with his comment. I wonder if there is a win big enough to keep those morons from trying to start a war.

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  43. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    The voters most likely to stay home are the 8% undecided/hate both candidates. Given that it is a reasonable assumption that a portion of the undecided vote, is Trump leaning on policy that dislike the circus, it will hurt Trump if they stay home.

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  44. charon says:
  45. charon says:

    @mattbernius:

    I think there’s a pretty strong argument that his strategy for last night, as seen in his closing comments, was to do everything he could to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process.

    https://twitter.com/TheRealHoarse/status/1311300589792489473

    The reason Trump’s narcissism is a disorder and not just a personality is because it doesn’t work. It is dysfunctional.

    Take last night. Trump has no functional tools. When his dysfunctional behavior isn’t working, his only impulse is to heap on more of it.

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  46. JohnMcC says:

    @BugManDan: Mr Biden has said all along that the President’s remarks about Charlottesville (“fine folks on both sides”) are exactly what propelled him into the race. We were certain to get a Trump-style replay in some form or another.

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  47. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/TheRealHoarse/status/1311290441401331713

    The only thing people will remember about this debate even a few days from now is that Trump acted like an asshole throughout.

    https://twitter.com/TheRealHoarse/status/1311167787327459328

    When you’re trying to undo the damage from things *your own guy* said after a debate, it was a bad, bad night.

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  48. BugManDan says:

    @JohnMcC: I shouldn’t be surprised, but I still was. Not by the sentiment, but by the utterance of it. And everyday I wonder how do we come back from the depths that we are still plunging into.

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  49. al Ameda says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Seriously, isn’t Trump the first openly (maybe ‘obviously’ is the better wor) White Supremacist President since Woodrow Wilson? Wilson was very racist, even by the standard of his time.

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  50. Scott says:

    @al Ameda: A reassessment of Wilson is really overdue. His actions to push back on the very strong WWI anti war movement (tar and feathering, “patriotic leagues”, etc.) were also pretty bad. Makes one wonder whether his actions foretold or encouraged the white racist riots in the 20s.

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  51. Kathy says:

    Apparently New Zealand not only has done way better than America in handling COVID-19, but also does better debates.

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  52. Northerner says:

    @KM:

    Fair enough. Lets move on to the danger of say Artificial Intelligence. A number of very well informed and knowledgeable people have said its an existential threat to humanity — meaning its as least as serious as Trump being re-elected. So if you’re not informing yourself on that and ready to take a stand, by your own accounting you are a moron.

    Ask yourself, do you feel like a moron, or just someone with too many other things to worry about already, who can do the math and decide their input on AI won’t make much difference one way or the other?

    We always think the issues we care about ourselves are the most important ones. Perhaps that makes us all morons, but in that case the word doesn’t mean much.

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  53. Northerner says:

    I should add I’m not eligible to vote in your elections, but I always vote in those of my country and province and even civic elections. If I could vote in your elections I’d say Biden is the obvious choice. But I also know some very intelligent and active people (in environmental and social causes) who rarely if ever vote but yet manage to do more good than probably most voters. If they’re being morons, then I wish we had a lot more morons like them, the world would be a much better place.

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  54. KM says:

    @Northerner :
    I don’t know about you but I’m capable of caring deeply about multiple topics at a time. Triage is a concept, though that’s relevant here. If time is a precious commodity, perhaps use it on the thing you can affect that might help out with all the other problems… like electing a non-deranged POTUS would could understand what AI stands for in the first place when the security briefing come up?

    You are changing the topic and justifying people staying in ignorance about a subject that can literally mean the end of their country, way of life or even their life – POTUS has that much power. There’s no excuse for ignorance. You’re trying to be all Zen but really, you’re coming across as All Topics Matter and #NotAllVoters. We have a specific, urgent, time-sensitive issue that’s life or death for many. Any going “I’m too busy to care” or “We’ve got bigger problems” is deliberately choosing to ignore this so yeah, they’re morons.

    Is AI gonna kill us all before the election? No? Then you got time to pay attention to American politics and not be “undecided”. That way, we still have a country and economy left to deal with future AI-related issues as well as other pressing issues.

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  55. Grewgills says:

    @mattbernius:

    An interview with undecideds on NPR raised another possibility for that group: they are deciding whether or not to vote at all. Two of the three people on the segment stated that, at least for the moment, the debate convinced them not to vote.

    If that is the take away, then Trump won. It was his winning strategy in ’16 and it looks like his strategy now. Make the whole thing toxic enough that non-horrible people want nothing to do with it, then the horribles give him a second term.
    I managed to think people were inherently good at some level for most of my early life, for the middle I thought we were really just inherently less hairy apes, now I’m thinking we might be near the bottom of the ape barrel.

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  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: Okay. I’m just speculating about the possibility that it’s more than the opinion of ONE VIEWER. YMMV.

    (It also happens to be my view, but that only makes TWO VIEWERS–one of whom didn’t view to begin with because of said opinion. I’m sure we must be the only two though.)

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  57. keef says:

    Yes, it was a shixt show. No winners. That’s undeniable. But after almost four years of a shixt show what did anyone expect? Trump has been labeled a racist, traitor blah blah blah. Was he to kiss their arses? And did I not hear correctly? Biden called him a clown, liar, racist and told him to shut up etc. Very presidential. All while Biden gave the most vapid of responses, if he gave a response at all.

    And now we are on the cusp of fully learning the collusion was Obama/Clinton and Russian fueled stooges. Not to mention a probe of Hunter Biden’s manifest acumen (!!) in all things Ukraine and Chinese.

    The comments here are what I have come to expect. I’m tempted to say kindergarten level. But I’m feeling charitable. Junior high.

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  58. mattbernius says:

    Wow. I’ve never seen so much flopsweat and spinning in a single post like that.

    When a died in the wool apologist can’t find a way to call that a win, and decides the best option is to quickly change the topic… well, that’s not a great sign.

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  59. Dude Kembro says:

    “And now we are on the cusp of fully learning the collusion was Obama/Clinton and Russian fueled stooges. Not to mention a probe of Hunter Biden’s manifest acumen (!!) in all things Ukraine and Chinese.”

    Gotta love a someone spews this deranged, desperate, debunked, delusion giving lectures about junior high. But we’ve come to expect this kind of pathologically phony propaganda from the Trump cult.

    Over in reality land, the Russia investigation report by the Republican-controlled Senate fleshes out and clarifies the Trump-Russia collusion already explicated by the Mueller report. All of the Russia investigations thus far have been led by Republicans. None of them have investigated Hillary for collusion. Because she didn’t collude. Duh, obviously.

    The Republican Senate’s Ukraine probe concluded that while Hunter Biden’s misadventures might have been indecourus, they were not criminal nor influential over US policy. The attempt by Trump’s minions to But Her Emails it aren’t working because this isn’t 2016 and there’s no there, there.

    Trump is losing and melting down because Americans are sick of the nonstop barrage of right wing lies and distractions just like these.

    The debate commentary here indicates how out-of-touch white male conventional opinion is with most of America, the same echo chamber opinion that caused y’all to wrongly declare Biden’s candidacy dead after the Nevada cacucses and in trouble after a a summer of unrest.

    Biden is not Mr. Charisma. He’s not as sharp and interesting as Hillary, nor as exciting and inspiring as Obama. But Biden need not be. To me and likely most Americans he came off as competent and safe. He showed the Dementia Joe attack was dumb. He mirrored our collective astonished exasperation with Trump’s psychotic behavior. He spoke for many (including not a few Trump voters) when he called Trump a clown who should shut up.

    And he made reasonable, wise policy points on healthcare, climate, community policing, and how Trump — who screamed for 90 minutes then told racist terror gangs to stand by for attack — does not get suburban diversity. Or America.

    Biden won the debate, easily. Polls will soon reflect that white guy BoThSiDeSism underestimating him is wrong. Again.

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  60. Kathy says:

    James, we really need a downvote option.

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  61. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    There’s a distinct difference between voting without enthusiasm for someone and being unable to decide for whom you wish to vote, or claiming you’re unable to decide for whom to vote. Why Kimberly should claim to be undecided at this point confounds me. Is she really having that hard a time making up her mind?

    I’ve voted without enthusiasm in several instances. But I never had a problem with indecision.

    As for Nick–he’s a Trump voter. He just doesn’t want to admit it in a public forum. He said so himself.

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  62. mattbernius says:

    @Kathy:

    James, we really need a downvote option.

    I’m not sure if there is a silent “/s” on this or not, but the only comment that I will ever promise to downvote on this website is a suggestion that we bring the downvote back. 😉

    Things are so much improved now that is gone.

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  63. Kathy says:

    @mattbernius:

    I’m always serious about the downvote.

    Not always about the comments on it: I can see you agree we need it, as you have one definite use for it 😉

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  64. MarkedMan says:

    Wallace recounted feeling “desperation” when he put the debate temporarily on hold to tell both Trump and Biden that “the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions.”

    However, when bluntly asked whether the President was responsible for the debate going off the rails, Wallace replied “well, he certainly didn’t help” but declined to elaborate further.

    Wallace is a Fox News whore. It’s just that he’s the whore the pimps trot out for the johns who like to pretend they’re not buying a whore.

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  65. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: This! Sadly…[sigh]

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  66. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Dude Kembro: From your keyboard to God’s ears…

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  67. Mikey says:

    @keef:

    And now we are on the cusp of fully learning the collusion was Obama/Clinton and Russian fueled stooges.

    Now you’re spreading straight-up Russian disinformation. You’re aiding an enemy of America. There’s a word for that, you know.

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  68. Northerner says:

    @KM:

    People who are involved in various causes but don’t vote (I’m talking about the Canadian context here, because I know many people here like that where as I don’t know which of the Americans I know vote or not, who they vote for etc — it doesn’t come up in engineering trips) would answer that the time hours they spent reading up on issues and candidates (enough to have a useful opinion) and then going out to vote it time they could be spent working on band or environmental issues that directly affect them and their community (everything from clean water to youth crime (getting at underlying causes as opposed to locking them up), and which unlike elections gets almost no help or outside attention unless they put in the effort.

    Their vote would be one in a hundred thousand for their riding, their efforts are one in a few dozen (sometimes less). I don’t completely agree with them (I go out and vote), but I don’t think its anything like as straight forward as you believe.

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  69. The Q says:

    “…….The comments here are what I have come to expect. I’m tempted to say kindergarten level. But I’m feeling charitable. Junior high……”

    Your comment certainly lived up to your own lowly expectations, but I’m being charitable.

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