AFTER the storm, the calm. President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden held a relatively passionless second face-to-face debate last night under tight new rules designed to prevent a repetition of their rowdy first meeting. They worked.
There were no fireworks over Biden’s growing corruption scandal. Trump raised it and the former vice president denied any wrongdoing but there was no rancour. The 90-minute joust was a calm and polite recitation of standard talking points that Americans had heard before.
For voters tired of political theatre, the evening under NBC moderator Kristen Welker was probably a relief and provided a clearer picture of both men whose failings are often considered greater than their virtues. Both emerged enhanced, though from a low base.
The nearest thing to a clash was over immigration and the fate of 500 children who have not been reunited with their lost parents from whom they were separated since crossing the Mexican border illegally. Biden angrily said that what had happened to them was ‘criminal, it’s criminal’.
Trump grumbled in advance about the decision to mute microphones so that the two men could not interrupt each other during the allotted speaking times in answering Welker’s questions. But the rule and the discipline it imposed worked to his advantage.
In contrast with his blustering performance at the first debate, he was self-controlled, focused and probably reassured potential voters still wavering between him and Biden, whose lead in the polls has reportedly narrowed since emails appeared to link him with corruption in Ukraine when he was vice president.
Biden was well-prepped and put on an energetic and confident show which he needed to do to counter the constant claims that, at 78, he’s too old to tackle the rigours of the presidency and lead the country out of the effects of the Covid crisis.
Both men stressed the contrast between them. Trump, the billionaire businessman, played the political outsider card which won him his 2016 victory over Washington insider Hillary Clinton. He was Mr Can Do with hands untainted by dirty politics.
Biden, who has had a near 50-year political career as a senator and as Obama’s vice-president, emphasised that he was still the same authentic guy from hard-scrabble Scranton that he was when he started out. He understood the problems of blue-collar Americans hit hard by the way Trump handled the virus and always worse off under Republicans.
Biden had a bad day in the media yesterday when new allegations emerged that appeared to link him, his son Hunter and his two brothers to corrupt dealings in Ukraine and China while he was still vice president.
Trump referred to ‘the emails, the horrible emails’ that have put Biden on the spot and to ‘the kind of money you and your family were raking in . . . you were vice president when some of this was happening and it should never have happened.’ He added: ‘You need to clean it up.’
Biden responded: ‘I have never taken a penny from any foreign source in my life . . . Russia pays you [Trump] a lot, China’s paying you a lot.’ He denied doing anything unethical in Ukraine and added: ‘I did my job as vice president and not one single thing was out of line.’
Absolving his son Hunter, Biden said: ‘My son has not made money in terms of China. No one said anything he did in Ukraine was wrong.’
Unstated during the exchange was the difference between Trump’s legitimate earnings from his international business and the fact that the money the Bidens allegedly made was effectively pay-to-play and possibly impeachable in Joe’s case. Hunter, a lawyer with no experience in the energy sector, was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma for some unexplained reason while his father was vice president.
Biden said what he had to at the debate but certainly hasn’t put the matter to sleep, with Trump supporters such as former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani promising more revelations and named associates of Hunter Biden coming forward with what they claim is evidence against the former vice president. The media fight for voters’ attention will go on.
With the open assistance of the partisan MSM, Democrats are determined to retake the presidency with Joe, but in the background lurks the threat of a smoking gun from the Ukraine or China emerging after his election and the possibility of another impeachable presidency.
The official debate topics were Covid, for which Trump said a vaccine would be available by the end of the year, Russian and Iranian interference in the election due on November 3, leadership and immigration.
Biden said that within his first 100 days, he would send Congress a Bill providing 11million illegal (‘undocumented’ in Democrat-speak) immigrants on a pathway to citizenship. He would also make sure that ‘Dreamers’, the children of illegal immigrants, would be removed from the threat of deportation.
Kristen Welker moderated firmly and respectfully and probably did a lot to restore the tarnished reputation of debate anchors, who have been accused previously of open bias in their treatment of the candidates. Not a decisive night but not a bad one.