Last US presidential debate: a draw, a missed opportunity

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Jean-François Bélanger (access the author's page)

Calmer, more disciplined than the first Trump-Biden clash but without a real winner, the latest US presidential debate is unlikely to change the dynamics of the campaign or the outcome of the election.

It took an extreme measure: turning off the microphone of the one who does not have the floor to finally obtain a more or less normal debate in which the candidates speak one after the other and not one on top of the other. 'other. It was also necessary to threaten to expel those who do not wear masks to get those close to Donald Trump to cover their faces in the room.

Finally, it took a lot of insistence on the part of the president's advisers for the latter to suppress his instincts and agree to lower his level of aggression towards his rival by several notches compared to the first debate; so that he would refrain from jumping on Joe Biden's jugular at every opportunity.

In short, Donald Trump was on a mission to appear a little more presidential to try to rally the remaining undecided with less than two weeks of the vote. After a tense and cacophonous first face-to-face in September and a second duel called off due to coronavirus, this was the last debate of the campaign.

The last chance for the incumbent president to convince Americans that he deserves a second term. An opportunity not to be missed to speak to the whole country as the president lags significantly behind his rival at the national level, but also in many key states.

In that sense, as the stakes were very high for Donald Trump, the bar was too low. All he had to do was discipline himself a little to make a much better impression than during the catastrophic first debate. His close advisers are rubbing their hands. Donald Trump has managed to control himself; to better defend its balance sheet and better target its attacks. He even managed to unsettle Joe Biden by portraying him as a career politician who, in more than four decades, has spoken a lot, but accomplished little.

Will this be enough to change the dynamics of the campaign? Nothing is less sure.

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At the end of this debate, there are only 11 days left before the ballot. This is little. Especially since 48 million Americans have already voted in advance. Donald Trump has wasted precious time recovering from COVID-19. Above all, he wasted a lot of time leading a fruitless campaign focused on the 42% of his voters, rather than trying to broaden his base.

Donald Trump is crazy about large partisan gatherings and he measures his success by the number of supporters who come to hear his long, often rambling speeches, in which he praises his own and insults his rivals. But the effectiveness of his campaign remains to be proven. Because the message, a little diffuse, turns in echo in the sound box of the Trumpist sphere without reaching a new electorate.

And that is expensive; the Republican Party squandered its war chest in a few months without taking off in the polls. Worse, Democrats now raise twice as much money as Republicans, allowing them to flood local stations in key states with advertising.

A missed opportunity

The candidates' wives took to the stage after the debate.

United States President Donald Trump (left) and Democratic candidate Joe Biden (right) were joined on stage by their respective wives, Melania Trump and Jill Biden, after the debate.

Photo: Reuters / MIKE SEGAR

In this sense, the last debate was a godsend for Donald Trump. Free airtime, on all channels, allowing it to reach all Americans.

If he passed the self-control test, he made a serious mistake in not understanding or refusing to admit that this election is in fact a referendum on his performance as president; and in particular on its management of the pandemic.

His mission was to defend his record and present to American voters the platform he intends to apply in a second term. Those who hoped to learn more about it were left unsatisfied.

Donald Trump also needed to empathize at all costs to stem his fall in popularity with white suburban voters and evangelical Christians. But he missed a good opportunity to do so when he spoke of the 545 migrant children still separated from their parents, simply saying that they are treated well, without acknowledging the inhuman side of the situation.

Both candidates made mistakes

Bar patrons follow the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Viewers follow the latest debate between candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, October 22, 2020, in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo: Getty Images / Sergio Flores

He also made a few blunders, like when he bragged about being the least racist person in the room… facing moderator Kristen Welker, an African American. He finally handed Joe Biden an easy pole by saying you have to learn to live with the coronavirus; his opponent was quick to point out that we would die of it.

Joe Biden also made mistakes. His mention of the phasing out of oil will certainly cost him votes in Texas and Pennsylvania. But, ahead in the polls, the Democratic candidate has less of a knife to his throat than his rival. He just had to avoid disqualifying himself completely from the electorate during this debate.

The duel therefore resulted in a draw.

This debate, more civilized, without much relief, is therefore likely to have very little impact on the course of the campaign. An election whose outcome is emerging with greater clarity every day. Unless, of course, a dramatic twist from which you are never immune. In 2016, it should be remembered, Hillary Clinton seemed to be leading the way when a letter from FBI Director James Comey, announcing an investigation into her emails, turned everything upside down, 11 days before the election.

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