Joe Biden is the big winner of last night’s debate. It may seem surprising that any candidate benefited from a debate that made them both look so bad. They spent most of the time behaving like incoherent toddlers. And even the coherent parts were just weak.
For instance, Biden started by saying that Trump’s decision to fill the Supreme Court vacancy is an abuse of power. Biden then shot himself in the leg by refusing to say whether he’d commit an even bigger abuse of power by packing the Court. Trump later accused Hunter Biden of being corrupt. Trump said that the wife of a Russian politician paid Hunter $3.5 million. Problem is, Trump’s also accused of enjoying Russian help.
But American debates aren’t about looking good. They’re about persuading swing voters to back you.
Biden won the debate because of one accomplishment alone: he strengthened his position with the most crucial demographic in this election – the working class. They won the election for Trump last time, and polls show that Biden’s winning them back. And since they’re the only group with whom Biden is more popular than Clinton was in 2016, they’ll decide this election too.
Trump should have tried to win them back during the debate. But he didn’t even try. The working class came up only once, and it was Biden who mentioned them. He invited them to ask themselves whether they’re better off now than they were when Trump entered office.
It was a pathetic attack. After all, it was Covid, not Trump, which killed off so many blue-collar jobs. Until Covid hit, America had more manufacturing jobs than before Trump took over. And, specifically, what is really hurting blue-collar workers is the shutdown, since they can’t work from home, unlike many white-collar workers.
But Trump turned Biden’s weak attack into a killer blow. He said that blue-collar families are doing just fine. Trump was so intent on defending his record that he couldn’t even acknowledge their pain. And if he can’t show that he even understands their troubles, they’ve got little reason to vote for him to fix them.
What a contrast to 2016. Then, it was the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, who ignored the working class. She called them deplorable. And, during one debate, Clinton said sarcastically that she’s to blame for everything bad that ever happened. Problem is, the blue-collar voters in the Midwest actually did blame Clinton and other career politicians for their problems.
Trump, on the other hand, was listening. His whole campaign was geared towards winning them over. His slogan, Make America Great Again, was mostly about bringing back manufacturing jobs. Trump vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. Trump succeeded in motivating many workers, who hadn’t voted for years, to turn out and vote for him.
That won’t happen this time, unless Trump changes his message toward them in the next month.
Going into the debate, Trump needed a clear win to turn things around. Polls already put Biden way ahead. Trump not only didn’t get that decisive victory, he actually made things worse for himself.