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Debate evening: the breakdown of “ on politics ”

Hello and welcome to our latest wrap-up edition of the On politics – for this year, anyway. I am Lisa Lerer, your host. Stay tuned for Giovanni Russonello’s Poll Watch later today.

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For President Trump, the measure of success in last night’s debate was clear: He needed a big victory.

This final game of the 2020 election season was his biggest remaining opportunity to substantially change the dynamics of a race that had eluded him for weeks, if not months.

But instead of getting a victory in the debate, Mr. Trump fought Joe Biden to a draw, and that’s not what the president needed.

There were some improvements from his previous debate performance: Following the advice of his assistants, Mr. Trump focused his attention on attacking Mr. Biden, and on controlling his emotional outbursts and frustrations with him. the moderator.

While many of his arguments were littered with false and unsubstantiated allegations, he sent a consistent message against Mr. Biden, portraying him as a career politician who was ineffective during his decades in Washington – “everything talks and no action. “.

And Mr Trump delivered red meat to his Tory base, alleging that the former vice president used his position to enrich his family – an unfounded argument peddled by Rudy Giuliani and other Trump allies.

But amid all the attacks, Mr. Trump presented no clear vision to a country in the midst of a national crisis, failing to explain how he would use a second term.

Mr. Trump is no longer a political foreigner capable of blaming the Washington establishment for the country’s failures. Yet he appeared to ignore the more than 222,000 people killed by the coronavirus pandemic in the United States and the plight of hundreds of children separated from their parents on the southern border.

For his part, Mr. Biden has remained unfazed by the assault. He accused the president of trafficking Russian disinformation and challenged him to free his taxes.

Even with mute buttons and social distancing, the debate ended up being a surprisingly normal political event in a very strange election year. Neither man played in a way that would automatically disqualify him from among his supporters or undecided voters.

For some viewers, the debate was reminiscent of 2016. Four years ago, Mr. Trump entered the final debate hanging around in the polls and needing a big win. He stayed with a more measured tone, attacked Hillary Clinton as a political insider, and had his best performance of this campaign.

Next, Mr. Trump followed Ms. Clinton by about six points, according to poll averages. Mr Biden now leads around nine points nationally and has made notable inroads in key parts of the presidential coalition.

Much of Mr. Biden’s strength comes from the low marks voters gave the president on the campaign’s defining issue – the coronavirus pandemic. Last night, Mr. Trump still did not have good answers on how he would handle the spread of the virus.

As he has done for months, the president has attempted to downplay the severity of the pandemic, arguing that the virus is loosening its grip on the country even as the number of new infections peaked in months. This statement ignores not only current reality, but also what most voters expect in the future.

A recent poll by the New York Times and Siena College found that just over half of likely voters believed the worst of the pandemic was yet to come, compared with 37% who said the worst was over.

“Whoever is responsible for these many deaths should not remain President of the United States of America,” said Biden.

In a particularly unpredictable election season, a Biden victory is not a forgotten conclusion, as my colleague Adam Nagourney detailed in the newspaper yesterday. But a draw in the final debate may not be enough to abruptly turn the race away from him.

When the debate began, more than 48 million Americans had already voted. For Mr. Trump to win this race, he must energize a “red wave” in the closing days of this contest that could outweigh the Democrats’ early voting advantage. That means either training a significant number of new voters or persuading a good slice of Americans to change their mind and support the president.

Mr Trump may have had his best performance of the campaign last night, but he’s not sure it’s enough to provide him with what he needs.

We want to hear from our readers. Have a question? We will try to answer them. Do you have a comment? We are all ears. Write to us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.


President Trump and the Republican Party give up. So argue the Times columnists Ross Douthat and Charles Blow.

“What we are observing is that a holder is doing everything in his power to increase his own margin of defeat,” said Mr. Douthat.

Keep up with Election 2020

“Trump isn’t even trying to plead for a second term,” Mr. Blow writes. “It doesn’t present a vision and a plan.”

So what East he does? Mr Douthat claims that “he makes a closing ‘point’ that is indistinguishable from a sales pitch for a TV show or a newsletter – suggesting that even over four years ago, the president assumes he will be in the media business as soon as electoral returns arrive. “

As Mr Blow points out, Mr Trump has been pressured in recent weeks to speculate on what he might do in the event of a loss. “Can you imagine if I lose?” he said at a recent rally. “All my life, what am I going to do?” I’ll say I lost to the worst candidate in political history. I’m not gonna feel so good. I may have to leave the country. I do not know.”

For Republicans in the House and Senate, frustration abounds. The president’s erratic message during a pandemic and a time of economic instability leaves Republican senators poised for re-election at a stalemate. This is especially true for Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a Republican that Mr Trump appears to be. actively campaigning against.

Some Republicans are just tired of the president and his antics. Times columnist Gail Collins notes in The Conversation with Bret Stephens that Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska accused Mr. Trump of “screwing up the coronavirus crisis, getting closer to dictators and white supremacists and pulling water for a “ Republican bloodbath ”.

It’s “too little, too late, in my opinion, although it’s always nice to hear what Republicans really think of their favorite president, ”says Stephens.

– Adam Rubenstein


At the start of last night’s debate, its moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, gave a polite but firm instruction: the game should not be a repeat of the chaos of last month’s debate.

It was a quieter affair and, for the first segments, a more structured and linear exchange of views.

President Trump, whose interruptions came to define the first debate, was more sober, apparently taking into account the advice that following the rules of the debate would make his message more effective. And while there haven’t been any defining moments for Joe Biden, he has managed to defend himself more than he did last month, on issues such as the coronavirus and economic support for families and businesses in distress.

On “The Daily,” Alexander Burns, national political correspondent for The Times, summarizes the events of the night.

Click here to listen now.


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